Ehrlich discusses ban with Sun executives

Restrictions aren't lifted

governor provides articles he believes are inaccurate

December 18, 2004|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

In a closed-door meeting yesterday, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and top executives of The Sun discussed the paper's coverage of the governor and the administration's order that bans state workers from speaking with two journalists at the newspaper.

The 90-minute meeting, however, resulted in little apparent progress toward lifting the ban other than an agreement to continue talking.

Ehrlich provided the paper's editors with a list of articles that he believes contain inaccuracies, and Sun editors agreed to review the stories and meet with the governor's staff to go over them soon.

"They agreed to look at what we've presented, and I think that's productive, but we are still not at resolution," Ehrlich said last night. "We expect accuracy on the front page. ... There's a world of difference between the editorial page, talk radio, opinion-oriented journalism and facts, and that distinction must be acknowledged."

Sun editor Timothy A. Franklin said he hopes the ban can be lifted through continued negotiations, and that he expects attorneys for both the paper and the governor to work toward that end. He said public editor Paul Moore would review the governor's list of articles, a list that was not made public.

"As far as we know, the allegations of serial inaccuracies that have been made, we believe, aren't true," Franklin said after the meeting, on the second floor of the State House. "But we will seriously take a look at these and go through them and see where that leads us."

He said the paper's lawsuit against the governor, which asks a federal judge to lift the ban, is still pending. The paper has argued that the governor's order that forbids state workers from speaking with State House bureau chief David Nitkin and columnist Michael Olesker is unconstitutional and not in the public's interest on the grounds that it discourages "speech by any citizen of Maryland who disagrees with the Governor."

Ehrlich's press office issued the order Nov. 18, saying the two writers were "failing to objectively report" on state issues. The order came after Nitkin had written a series of stories reporting on the state's proposed sale of 836 acres of parkland in St. Mary's County to Willard J. Hackerman, a politically connected construction company owner, for the same price the state paid for it last year.

Ehrlich attended yesterday's meeting with Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and members of the governor's staff. Franklin, the Sun's editor, was joined by publisher Denise Palmer, editorial page editor Dianne Donovan, public editor Moore and two attorneys representing The Sun.

The governor's communications director, Paul E. Schurick, said, "The management of the paper was here in good faith. They made it clear they are incredibly committed to fair and accurate reporting. They hold the integrity of the newspaper in very high regard. We have some more work to do. We have a lot more work to do. But progress was made."

Franklin said, "It was an open and frank discussion among both sides, and we're going to continue to talk. I've said before that we're committed to accuracy at The Sun, and it was good for the governor to hear that directly from us; and hopefully our talks will continue to lead us to getting the ban lifted."

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