The following column by Sun Public Editor Paul Moore is being published in an effort to provide readers with a timely report on a list of complaints about Sun coverage compiled by the press office of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration. The list was given to Sun executives at an off-the-record meeting in December. Mr. Moore, who reports directly to the publisher and works independently of The Sun's news and editorial page operations, has carefully investigated the complaints on the list. The Ehrlich administration is expected to release the list today, along with other materials related to the governor's dispute with The Sun that led to the banning of two Sun journalists.
LAST NOV. 18, all Maryland executive
branch employees were banned from
speaking with two Sun journalists, columnist
Michael Olesker and State Bureau
chief David Nitkin.
The ban is still in effect today.
Concerned about the ban and public assertions
of unfair treatment of the governor by
The Sun, the newspaper's publisher and top
editors sought and ultimately gained an off-the-record meeting with Governor Ehrlich
and members of his staff Dec. 19.
At that private meeting, the governor's staff
distributed a document titled "Partial List of
Inaccuracies, Omissions, Errors, and Distortions
by The (Baltimore) Sun's Reporters,
Headline Writers and Editorial Writers Regarding
the Ehrlich-Steele Administration."
As The Sun's public editor, it is my responsibility
to independently review such material
to determine whether errors have been made
and how they occurred and to suggest corrections
to be published in the newspaper.
To fulfill that responsibility, I received a
copy of the list -- 23 items relating to news
stories, editorials, headlines, columns and
graphics published in The Sun between 2001
and 2004. I reviewed the items and interviewed
people involved. The Sun has corrected
or clarified four items.
In the weeks after the Dec. 19 meeting,
Governor Ehrlich alluded to this list when he
publicly accused The Sun of "serial inaccuracies"
in stories. On the radio and in interviews,
he also claimed that some stories had
been made up.
A close analysis does not support such conclusions.
While there is no doubt that some mistakes
have been made in The Sun's coverage of the
Ehrlich administration, there is no evidence
of the grievous, purposeful mistakes publicly
referred to by the governor. As I see it, those
claims are grossly exaggerated.
Because the list was offered at an off-the-record
meeting, I felt bound not to speak or
write publicly about it. There have not been
specific references to it in The Sun's news
pages for the same reason.
Now, an April 7 letter from Jervis S. Finney,
chief counsel for the Ehrlich administration,
asking for a "prompt public response" on the
list has removed that constraint, and the anticipated
release of the list by the administration
in response to a state Public Information
Act request makes this assessment timely.
The complaints focus either on questions
of factual accuracy or claims of bias in articles
and headlines that the Ehrlich administration
contends were not fairly balanced.
Making the list public is helpful, in my view,
because it sheds significant light on larger issues
that have shadowed the governor's dispute
with The Sun.
Governor Ehrlich was clearly upset by Mr.
Nitkin's coverage of a proposal to sell preserved
state land in St. Mary's County in a
deal that would have provided significant tax
benefits to the purchaser, developer Willard
A number of the listed complaints focused
on stories about that proposal, which
sparked a political controversy.
For instance, one concerned an Oct. 20,
2004, front-page article written by Mr. Nitkin
that was accompanied by this headline: "Ehrlich
OK'd deal for land."
The list's grievance stated that "Governor
Ehrlich never 'OK'd' any deal for land. In addition,
there was no deal at the time -- only