Ehrlich gets whiff of 'Onion'

Contrary to published reports, the entire state of Maryland will not be closed on Aug. 31, a spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. confirmed yesterday.

The governor himself could not be reached for comment. Even as rumors swirled through the capital that every last state employee would be laid off because the budget was just too far in the red - and that even the state flag and motto would be auctioned off - Ehrlich was playing golf and attending a movie premiere, staffers said.


The "article" is the lead story in this week's edition of The Onion, a satirical newspaper that does dead-on parodies of the news. It is not far from the truth: Maryland is, in fact, experiencing large budget deficits, and the governor has tried selling off state assets, cutting budgets and using "rainy day" funds. Nearly everything is accurate - well, except for the bit about actually shutting down the entire government after a deal to sell the state to New Mexico fell through.

Oh, and in Ehrlich's big foray into the national spotlight, his name was misspelled a dozen times throughout the piece. Apparently it's not just the mainstream papers that can't get the spelling straight.


"We are, in fact, not closing the state down," said Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Ehrlich. "Despite the enormous budget deficit we have inherited, that is not an option."

State employees busily e-mailed the story to one another, wondering in jest if they were headed for the unemployment line.

The Onion offers this fictitious quote from Ehrlich: "We had a good run, but we can't do it anymore. ... We are simply losing too much money to keep the borders open."

It also says residents of the state will be allowed to stay after Aug. 31 but will have to do without government services, a situation the fake Ehrlich calls "extremely regrettable." "Experts predict the state will become a vast vacant lot within five years," it states.

The Onion's Web site,, gets about a million hits a week, according to its editor, Carol Kolb. The paper has had its stories mistaken for the truth in the past, such as a recent item saying Congress wanted to leave Washington because of the outdated Capitol. Editors of the Beijing Evening News, unaware that The Onion makes its stories up, ran the piece as fact.

Kolb said she's not sure why her paper chose to highlight Maryland - whose budget deficit is far from the worst in the nation, even though it is growing - but said perhaps it means Ehrlich has "arrived" as a public figure.

"We like to bring the lesser known, but still important, politicians in the country to the forefront," she said from her New York office. "Unfortunately, we had to bring bad news while we were doing it."

Fawell said his boss hadn't seen the piece, but had heard about it and got a laugh out of it. Ehrlich has no plans to freeze out The Onion, as he has in the past said he would do with the big mainstream newspapers in the state. "This is a titan of modern journalism," Fawell said with a laugh.