First lady Kendel Ehrlich, in a fiery speech to Republican supporters on the lower Eastern Shore, joined her husband's public fight against newspapers, saying they "lie" and "need to be punished."

As the guest speaker at the Lower Shore's Lincoln Day Dinner in Ocean City on Sunday, Kendel Ehrlich also lashed out at elected Democratic officials, saying their behavior during the legislative session was "rude" and "despicable," the Worcester County Times reported.

As broadcast news stations picked up on the comments yesterday, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. moved quickly to support his wife and to clarify her remarks. Speaking alone to reporters, he said her complaint is specifically with The Sun and The Washington Post - papers that the Ehrlichs say are biased against them and don't provide fair coverage.

The governor said he and the first lady were the target of personal attacks after news broke this year that a longtime administration aide had spread rumors about Democratic rival Martin O'Malley on the Internet. E-mail released from aide Joseph F. Steffen Jr.'s private account included one from Kendel Ehrlich in which she said, "We need you."

"Kendel appears to have been a target, and she takes that personally, too," the governor said, referring to Democratic calls for investigations and the news media's coverage of it.

The first lady's remarks also were sparked by her outrage over the legislature's dismantling of the Governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families. "She is quite upset about it, and as you know, she is direct," the governor said.

Kendel Ehrlich, speaking to the Republican central committees of Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset counties, called on supporters for help in re-electing the governor.

"We need your help, and I mean now. Get your bumper stickers out," she said, adding, "It is going to be ugly. Most major newspapers are going to be after him. It's not fun."

She railed against legislative Democrats, saying their behavior "was despicable."

"If our 5-year-old acted like that, he'd be punished," she said during a speech that was met with loud cheers and applause, according to some who attended.

"They lie," the first lady said of newspapers, not naming any. "I would punish my son if I caught him in a lie, and they need to be punished."

Yesterday, her spokeswoman, Meghann Siwinski, said: "I think she's urging people to not buy the papers, to not read the papers, to not trust what they read about her husband's administration in the papers."

The remarks were made as the first lady pointed out the party's accomplishments, said John Bartkovich, chairman of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee.

"Most of the speech was, 'This is what we've accomplished, and realize you're not going to read much about it in the paper but we have done a lot,'" he said. "A small part of the speech was, she wanted to deal with the issue of the press. I think we all knew what she was talking about, this issue of press fairness."

In the governor's battle with The Sun, the administration logs daily its complaints on coverage, pointing out what he feels are errors and omissions in articles, editorials and cartoons.

The newspaper sued Ehrlich last year after the governor prohibited executive branch employees from talking to a Sun reporter and columnist. The newspaper contended that the ban violated the writers' First Amendment rights by denying them the same opportunities to seek information as anyone else. The suit was dismissed, and the paper has appealed.

"I don't think we would have been in business for 168 years by telling lies in the newspaper," Sun editor Timothy A. Franklin said.

The executive editor of the Post declined to comment.

Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said the Ehrlichs' comments are misguided. "We think the ... administration should address the Steffen issue before they start handing out blame for personal attacks," White said.