Site condemns Post's log-on

Newspaper says reporter was verifying chat room exchange involving Steffen

November 05, 2005|By JENNIFER SKALKA | JENNIFER SKALKA,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- In the latest twist in a continuing State House saga, a spokesman for a conservative Web site contended yesterday that The Washington Post violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act by allowing a reporter to log on as the screen name MD4BUSH without the account owner's permission.

Kristinn Taylor, a volunteer spokesman for freerepublic.com, said that a Post editor should have known the identity of MD4BUSH before publishing the paper's Feb. 9 story specifying that MD4BUSH had coaxed information out of Joseph F. Steffen Jr., the Republican operative who was revealed to be circulating rumors about the mayor of Baltimore.

"There's a lot of people at Free Republic who feel like their privacy has been violated by The Washington Post," Taylor, standing in front of the paper's offices, told reporters. "Not only when the reporter logged into that account, not only could he read the private messages, for all intents and purposes he was MD4BUSH at that time."

The Washington Post released a statement saying the paper had no involvement in the postings between Steffen and MD4BUSH.

"Reporter Matthew Mosk did view the chat room postings between Joe Steffen (NCPAC) and MD4Bush on freerepublic.com a couple of months after the postings had occurred using sign-on information given to him by someone acting on MD4Bush's behalf," The Post said. "The newspaper did this to verify that printouts of the postings that Mr. Mosk had been given were not fake. Mr. Mosk read the relevant messages and did not post anything himself."

Steffen confirmed the message exchange - he posted using the log-on NCPAC - to the Post before the Feb. 9 story was published, according to the paper.

Steffen, who was fired from his state job, told The Sun in an interview last week that he had been instructed by top Ehrlich administration officials to target low-level employees to be terminated. Their departures were requested, Steffen explained, to make way for people loyal to the governor.

Within a day of The Sun's article about Steffen, employees of the governor and top Republicans - including Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, who sits on a special committee investigating the governor's personnel practices - demanded that the identity of MD4BUSH be revealed. Stoltzfus told reporters that the committee should subpoena Mosk, as he had colluded, Stoltzfus said, with Democratic operatives to get Steffen to confess that he'd been circulating rumors online about Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Democrats see the latest calls to know who MD4BUSH is as irrelevant to the work of the special committee, which is expected to soon call witnesses - including Steffen - to testify.jennifer.skalka@baltsun.com

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