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Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who confirmed this week that he will run governor, said Saturday that he will remain on-air at WBAL radio as co-host of a weekly show until July when he becomes an "official candidate."

The ex-governor made that distinction between "official" and unofficial candidate even as he confirmed for listeners that he would "formally" announce his candidacy on Wednesday.

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"BAL has asked, and we've agreed that I stay on this show ... until you [I] become an official candidate," Ehrlich told listeners at the start of the two-hour "Robert and Kendel Ehrlich Show" Saturday. "And that's when under the law, I guess, you become a formal candidate. And that date is sometime in July. I'll have to check that date. I'm not even sure when it is. At any event, it's in July."

Then, addressing an in-studio WBAL producer, Ehrlich said, "The station's offered equal time -- correct? -- to Gov. O'Malley and that campaign and all that."

"They will," a voice off-the-microphone said.

"They will," Ehrlich said. "It's their business, obviously -- the O'Malley campaign's business whether they accept that offer."

Is this is going to be one for the media ethicists to feast on.

Look, Ehrlich is a lawyer and politician; of course, he will split hairs any way he can to keep this two-hour weekly megaphone that has been a 50,000-watt source of criticism of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and call to arms for his supporters. What candidate looking for an edge wouldn't?

And if you want a sample of that criticism, click here and listen to the segment for Feb. 27 with the Ehrlichs criticizing O'Malley for visiting Maryland military personnel stationed in Iraq during a legislative session.

Note the couple quoting an unnamed "source" in making the false statement that there were "no Maryland troops" in Iraq at the time of the visit. Note also the lack of either saying that the Pentagon scheduled the trip, not O'Malley. Is this appropriate for a station that prides itself on its news operation?

The vital scheduling information about O'Malley's trip, as well as the fact that there were Maryland troops in Iraq, are something WBAL newsman Robert Lang supplied in his next-day report on the Ehrlichs' comments.

WBAL radio executives have said they have been seeking the guidance of attorneys on the issue of keeping Ehrlich on the air even as he runs for governor. I would urge them and their bosses at Hearst to think about the spirit of the various "Fairness" and "Equal Time" rulings that apply to such political broadcasting -- rather than the letter of the law as interpreted by paid attorneys.

This state and country are in trouble. And now more than ever, the media ought to put public service and social responsibility first. Once a candidate "formally" declares, to use Ehrlich's own term for what he plans to do on Wednesday, I cannot imagine under any interpretation of "fairness" how a station can continue to give him or her two hours of airtime a week. I wonder how others see it.

I can't wait to see how O'Malley's attorneys interpret "equal time." If I was him, I would ask for the same two hours (9 to 11 a.m.) every other Saturday. I think he has a case that anything else is not "equal." And what about hosts of other shows preceding or following O'Malley making overtly political assessments that are critical of O'Malley' and his administration? Should WBAL allow that as well?

Julie Bykowicz has some reaction from the O'Malley camp at Maryland Politics.

I am going to stay with this story and the issues it raises at Z on TV. I have a case I will be writing about in coming days of another lawyer at another station in Baltimore who is running for state office who stepped down from his position at that station -- a very different interpretation than the one at WBAL. Stay tuned.

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