What a week for journalism.
Last Monday, a ruling by a U.S. District Judge upheld a ban by Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., which forbade state officials from talking to two Baltimore Sun reporters. Were these journalists pernicious and unprofessional, warranting a strict prohibition? No. Ehrlich just didn’t like what they wrote about him.
The journalists in question – Sun columnist Michael Olesker and State House Bureau Chief David Nitkin – were barred access to lawmakers on the grounds that they had penned unfavorable words about the governor, and Judge William D. Quarles Jr. resoundingly OK’d the maneuver. According to a Sun report, he decided the journalists were “seeking special access beyond what is granted to the general public,” which is not protected by the U.S. Constitution.
But that’s not the truth; Olesker and Nitkin were not overstepping their bounds. They wanted to speak to members of state government in order to learn about official decisions, something any concerned citizen can legally do. Because Olesker and Nitkin have the mouthpiece of a far-reaching daily publication, they were specifically earmarked as the enemy due to harm they could inflict on Ehrlich’s image.
“I think the ramifications, if this is not overturned, could be unfortunate,” said Gene Roberts, former editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer in a Sun article. “It would mean if this governor or other governors continued along the same track, almost by a process of elimination, they would be deciding who covered them.”
How ironic that Roberts should say that. It was also reported last week that White House security officials gave press credentials to James Guckert, a conservative pseudo-journalist for two Texas-based Web sites for two years. Guckert was cleared despite wrongdoings on tax reports and posting naked images of himself on pornographic Web sites such as hotmilitarystud.com.
The issue is not Guckert’s sexuality, but rather the concept of maintaining message control at the expense of liberty. Gov. Ehrlich shunned two credible reporters because he didn’t like them.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan and President Bush handpicked a tax-evading, naked picture-posting man working under an alias – Guckert used the name Jeff Gannon during interviews – because he asked hard-hitting questions like how could Bush conceivably work with Democrats “who seem to have divorced themselves from reality.”
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd mentioned that McClellan trivialized the Gannon catastrophe in an interview with Editor & Publisher and she insightfully noted, “With the Bushies, if you’re their friend, anything goes. If you’re their critic, nothing goes.”
The same can be said for Ehrlich and his buddies in the state house, who were emboldened by the ruling against Sun reporters. Ehrlich’s communication director Paul Schurick haughtily addressed the proceedings as a waste of time, saying it “was an unwarranted lawsuit.”
Recently governmental officials fed up with pesky media personnel have chosen to either distort the news by silencing dissent, supporting reporters – even if they’re imposters – who report favorably on policy, or simply paying depraved journalists to shill for governmental programs under the guise of objectivity. For more, see Eva Liao’s column posted on our Web site.
The Sun promises to appeal the ruling. Here’s hoping they claim victory and take America back toward the public square, where government is transparent and information is pervasive as possible.
If some legislators are allowed to continue on their current course, citizens may only see one clear attribute in their officials: an overt eagerness to deceive.