Hogan's staff alters headline to falsely imply his bill gained support

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's staff altered the headline on a news story posted to his Facebook page in a way that falsely implied the governor's top legislative priority in Annapolis was gaining support.

In fact, Democrats in the General Assembly had gutted his proposal.


The doctored headline on a Baltimore Sun story appeared on Hogan's Facebook page for several hours Tuesday, but was changed after The Sun asked the governor's office why it misrepresented the newspaper's work. An identically altered headline appeared on the Maryland Republican Party's Facebook page, but the post was deleted late Tuesday. Party officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said it is not common practice for the governor's staff to rewrite news headlines. In this case, a staffer borrowed the language after seeing it on the GOP's page.


"We were wrong, that's why we fixed it," Mayer said. "This is not something we do."

The Sun found two other instances in which Hogan's Facebook page linked to news articles but had rewritten headlines on social media in ways that made them more favorable to the governor. Such alterations on Facebook posts can only be made by a manager of a professional or group page, not by most Facebook users.

The governor's office would not discuss the other two instances, which involved, except to say that, in general, changing headlines "is not something we do."

Hogan's staff also deleted comments from users who criticized the governor for recasting headlines.

A similar situation played out in North Carolina last week, after a Senate leader there changed headlines on at least five news articles to falsely imply the news organizations were attacking the state's governor. A Facebook representative told The Raleigh News & Observer that the North Carolina Senate leader had violated the site's terms of use by making such changes.

Facebook did not immediately respond to The Baltimore Sun's request for comment.

Hogan has come under scrutiny this year for how he has managed his Facebook page. More than 450 people have been permanently blocked from commenting on the governor's page, something civil liberties groups contested as a violation of free speech. Mayer has defended that practice as necessary to prevent political spamming and inappropriate language.

On Mar. 8, Hogan's staff rewrote a headline by that originally said, "Hogan pushes for less-partisan voting districts" to instead read on the governor's Facebook page as: "Hogan Fights To End Gerrymandering."


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The manipulated headline posted to the governor's page Tuesday read "Maryland Senate Committee Approves Road Kill Repeal W/Amendments," using the governor's "road kill" brand for a law that requires him to publicly rate and rank transportation projects when doling out more than $2 billion in state funding each year. Hogan had sought repeal of the law — a long shot after the legislature had already overrode his veto of the legislation last year.

On Monday afternoon, a Senate committee amended the governor's repeal proposal to keep the ranking system but delay part of its implementation for two years. The Sun's headline read "Maryland Senate committee crafts compromise on transportation scoring law." The Sun generally does not use the term "road kill" in headlines because it does not accurately summarize the legislation.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat, said he wouldn't consider the current proposal a repeal.

"The governor can call it whatever he wants," Miller said. "I know what the bill does."

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.