Ehrlich tells students of his feud with The Sun


Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. gave an undergraduate class at Towson University a real-life political case study yesterday - describing his feud with The Sun.

Shrugging off his jacket and crumpling his notes, Ehrlich forcefully laid out his grievances against The Sun to about 100 people in a lecture hall.

Ehrlich forbade state employees last month from talking to two Sun journalists whose coverage he said was inaccurate.

Last week, The Sun filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to lift the ban targeting State House Bureau Chief David Nitkin and columnist Michael Olesker.

Lawyers for Ehrlich and The Sun talked yesterday but made no definitive progress toward a resolution of the dispute, according to Sun Editor Timothy A. Franklin, who called the telephone conversation "a positive sign." Jervis S. Finney, the governor's counsel, was unavailable for comment last night, an Ehrlich spokesman said.

Speaking as a guest lecturer in Professor Richard E. Vatz's class on political persuasion, Ehrlich faulted The Sun anew for what he described as repeated "misstatements of fact." The paper, he said, "does not have a constitutional right to print statements of gross negligence on the front page."

In a later interview with radio and TV reporters, Ehrlich said, "There has to be a bottom line with respect to factual misstatements and innuendo ... stories that are invented."

Franklin said the paper had corrected the few errors that the governor's staff had made it aware of and would investigate any additional complaints.

"We take the accuracy of the newspaper very seriously," he said. "The governor is continuing to engage in broad attacks that demean the conscientious, hardworking men and women on the staff who every day strive for accuracy."

Franklin said the governor's comments seemed to "divert attention away from the core issue - an unconstitutional communications ban designed to intimidate reporters."

Ehrlich told the students The Sun's "liberal bias" was evident on its editorial page. He said it influenced coverage of him.

He spoke bitterly about a Sun editorial published during the 2002 gubernatorial campaign that said his running mate, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, "brings little to the team but the color of his skin."

Ehrlich said, "I would argue the elitists [at the paper] cannot deal with the fact that Michael Steele is an African-American and a Republican."

The current dispute between Ehrlich and The Sun began in October after Nitkin wrote several stories about a secret deal by the state to sell 836 acres of preserved forest land in St. Mary's County to developer Willard J. Hackerman.

A front-page map that accompanied a subsequent Nitkin article about the potential sale of 3,000 acres of state land incorrectly highlighted all 450,000 acres of state preservation land. A correction ran the next day.

The Ehrlich administration made Olesker a target of the ban after he wrote that the governor's communications director, Paul E. Schurick, was "struggling mightily to keep a straight face" during an Annapolis hearing. Ehrlich's staff said Olesker could not have known Schurick's expression because the columnist did not attend the hearing. Olesker apologized in a follow-up column.

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