Saturday, January 22, 2005

Marylanders' Right to Know

The New York Times
January 22, 2005

Marylanders' Right to Know

Gov. Robert Ehrlich of Maryland has pushed the public interest aside by promulgating an extraordinary ban forbidding tens of thousands of state employees from talking to two Baltimore Sun journalists whose coverage has displeased him. The gag order is a sweeping attempt to cut the two - the statehouse bureau chief and a columnist - from the flow of information vital to democracy. It is no surprise that The Sun has felt obliged to go to court to defend the journalists and accuse the governor of violating the First Amendment right of free speech.

No less does Mr. Ehrlich's order abuse state workers' rights by attempting to choke off information from them to taxpayers who need to know more about their government than the claims of the governor's press releases. We hope enough state workers are insulted by the lock-step edict to indulge even more their right to get truth out to the people.

Beyond citing minor errors across months of coverage, Mr. Ehrlich has not documented his blanket charges that the newspaper is fabricating both quotations and context in its stories. The governor's anger seems more rooted in The Sun's uncovering an attempt to sell state preservation lands to a developer, as well as the fact that its editorial page did not endorse him. It is not enough for Mr. Ehrlich to note that other Sun reporters are not being ostracized even as he seeks what he candidly calls a "chilling effect" on the two he has blacklisted.

It may seem good short-run politics to supporters of Mr. Ehrlich, a conservative Republican, to campaign against The Sun as elitist and biased. But in the long run, the governor, who faces re-election next year, is attacking a newspaper with a century-plus record of credibility. Cooler heads should prevail in settling the standoff short of the courthouse. Until then, Mr. Ehrlich's order stands as an embarrassing display of hubris.