Kim MacLean, Ellicott City: I find it very hard to believe that someone without a collegedegree could apply for and get a job as head of communications for a stateagency without someone exerting influence. Is there a job description witheducation requirements listed for [Joseph F.] Steffen [Jr.'s] former position? Justcurious.
Nitkin: Kim, I am sure there is a job description, but I can't get my hands on iteasily. I agree it would be highly unusual to create a description for arelatively high-level position paying more than $70,000 without a collegedegree as a prerequisite. The government and the private sector, however,often recognize real-world experience as a possible substitute for suchdegrees.
Susan McIntire, Towson: Do you really believe that [Gov. Robert L.] Ehrlich [Jr.] had never heard of the rumors, as he was quoted in The Sun?
Nitkin: Susan, Gov. Ehrlich has now refined his answer, and has said "you have tohave been under a rock" not to have heard the rumor. He blames his earlieranswer about saying he had never heard the rumor on the swirl of questionssurrounding him one day last week.
Alisa Bralove-Scherr, Owings Mills: What is The Sun's rationale for not reporting on the rumor sooner? It's been out there for quite a while, and whether it's true or false, hasn't the existence of it been news for some time now?
Nitkin: Alisa, let's distinguish between "reporting" on the rumor and actuallypublishing a story on it. The Sun did investigate tips it receivedsurrounding the rumor, and, it is safe to say, none of them have beenverified. But even if they had been, there is no guarantee a story wouldhave appeared in the paper.
After pursuing the reporting and findingevidence, there would have been a whole series of discussions about whetherthe information would have warranted a news story. Factors we would haveconsidered would have been whether the situation was some sort of violationof public -- not just private -- trust; and whether public resources wereinvolved or impacted.
Susan Steele, Baltimore: If Steffen was just "reporting" on rumors that he heard, who (specifically) was he hearing it from and where did that person(s) get the "information"?
Nitkin: Susan, it sure is hard to find the one, single person who was theoriginator of a story or rumor. Who started the story about Mikey, the Lifecereal kid, dying after eating Pop Rocks? Suffice to say, the rumor is outthere. There is no proof yet that Steffen was the source of it.
D. Lynnette Price, Baltimore: As a constituent of Maryland, I want a full investigation into this matter, and I want an investigation of the possible abuse of power that happened under Steffen's tenure with state government. I would like to understand the steps I need to take to petition for an investigation.
Nitkin: Lynnette, there is little you as an individual can do to "petition" for afull investigation. Your best bet would be to contact your electedofficials, as well as the leadership in the General Assembly, to tell themhow you feel. Absent any clear indication of a violation of law, theAssembly is best positioned -- and is considering -- an investigation intothe Steffen affair and other administration practices.
Nitkin: Ray, that's an interesting question. After [Baltimore Mayor Martin] O'Malley's re-election last year, Senate President Mike Miller sent the mayor a copy of a lengthyAtlantic magazine article on Rove and his tactics, and told the mayor "thisis what you are up against." We know of no connection between Steffen andRove.
Bob Price, Lutherville: In his Feb. 10 column, [The Sun's] Dan Rodricks wrote that Joe Steffen is the "source of ... rumors" about Martin O'Malley. Has it been established or is there any evidence that Steffen is the "source" of the rumors rather than merely one of perhaps thousands of people who have been repeating a rumor that has been circulating for years?
Nitkin: Bob, no. There is no solid evidence that Steffen is the source of therumors. In fact, posters on the FreeRepublic Web site, which Steffen wasusing, note that it would be a strange tactic to use a site devotednational politics to spread what is really a local or regional rumor.
Sean, Owings Mills: How do you know this Steffen fellow posted the info on the Web site? In other words, how do you know Steffen [posted under the handle] "ncpac"?
Nitkin: Sean, Steffen has personally confirmed in an interview with The Sun that heis "ncpac." He used to work for NCPAC, or the National Conservative PoliticalAction Committee.
Tony, Baltimore: How can O'Malley blame the governor personally if the rumors started prior to him taking office and the promulgating took place far away from the State House?
Nitkin: Tony, O'Malley has said there was an organized and coordinated effort tospread the rumor, but he has not blamed the governor personally.
Jeff Wilson, Baltimore: If the rumors about the mayor have been going around for months, how come it is coming out now that somebody from a rival party mentions it?
Nitkin: Jeff, the reason The Sun published the story last week was because thegovernor immediately forced the resignation of his aide, Steffen, afterlearning he had posted e-mails about the rumor. The information was providedto the governor by The Washington Post, which, likely, would have publisheda story that day even if Steffen had not been forced to resign, based onbeing able to link Steffen to the Internet postings.
For The Sun, the firing was the triggering, newsworthy event. Additionally, we followed upbecause O'Malley spoke publicly the next day for the first time, addressingthe rumors and refuting them. We did not publish a story prior to last weekbecause the rumors were just that -- rumors, and unsubstantiated ones atthat.
Richard Krueger, Linthicum: Why aren't journalists piecing together and detailing to the public this seemingly corrupt administration of Ehrlich? First, his administration tries to sell environmentally sensitive land to a secret campaign contributor. Then, they divert attention by blaming The Sun paper. Then, they fire state employees because of their political affiliation, and now we find his friends smearing a popular political figure who will probably be a political opponent.
Forget about the fact that he hired [Clarence M.] Mitchell [IV] and [former Gov. Marvin] Mandel -- doesn't anyone at The Sun see a pattern here? Still today, no one talks about his asbestos vote as a state legislator when his law firm represented asbestos manufacturers. Maybe these problems are more the result of a weak and timid press. What are you afraid of?
Nitkin: Richard, every one of the stories you mention has been written about, andgiven much prominence, in The Sun. We broke several of the stories youreference. I see no evidence of a timid press. Indeed, I don't think thegovernor would have banned state government from speaking with me andcolumnist Michael Olesker if he thought we were timid.
Marcus Shawn Knowles: Aren't the rumors much older than the actions of Ehrlich's administration staff? And will The Sun seek to verify the veracity of the mayor's statement?
Nitkin: Marcus, yes, some versions of the rumor pre-date the Ehrlichadministration, and some specific variants emerged after. I assume you arereferring to the mayor's statement that he has been faithful to his wife. Idon't think we will proactively try to verify that statement, but ifsomeone provided us with evidence to the contrary, we would pursue it.