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Right Field

Partisan Politics

By Russ Smith | Posted 7/27/2005

As far as I can tell, Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s almost-forgotten edict barring state employees from speaking to Sun journalists David Nitkin and Michael Olesker hasn’t, as the newspaper’s editors and lawyers argued, disemboweled the First Amendment. Editor Timothy Franklin is neither breaking rocks in the hot sun nor sharing quality jail time with the New York Times’ freedom-of-the-press martyr Judith Miller.

Baltimore’s only daily has continued its petty campaign against Ehrlich while pumping up the gubernatorial prospects of Mayor Martin O’Malley, and either omitting or burying much criticism of the gaffe-prone young mayor. Wouldn’t it be swell if Franklin ran a note one Sunday and explained to his readers that The Sun has no pretensions of objectivity, and in most cases prefers Democrats to Republicans? Such honesty would, at least in my eyes, give The Sun more credibility, in the tradition of European papers like London’s Guardian and Telegraph, which freely admit political positions.

As this is written, there hasn’t been any mention of a surprising Rasmussen Reports poll that shows O’Malley trailing Ehrlich by a margin of 46-41 percent; even more confounding is that Rasmussen’s findings put Montgomery County hack Doug Duncan, generally considered an underdog to O’Malley, ahead of Ehrlich by a point, 44-43 percent. The mid-July surveys were based on 500 likely voters in next year’s election, and show Rep. Ben Cardin besting Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (45-40 percent) and Steele defeating Kweisi Mfume by a margin of 47-40 percent. Granted, this wasn’t a Sun-commissioned poll, but you’d think it merits at least
a paragraph.

In fairness, it’s not as if the rest of Baltimore’s media is any more forthcoming in openly stating political prejudice. WBAL radio commentator Ron Smith wrote a scathing web site attack against The Sun on July 20, saying that the daily’s slogan “Light For All” is a “joke,” and that “honesty and accuracy isn’t exactly the Baltimore Sun’s stock in trade.” I’m in general agreement with Smith’s political preferences, but on this subject, he’s full of beans.

What led to the broadcaster’s snit was that The Sun decided that its best columnist, Gregory Kane—the token conservative—could no longer chat with Smith on his talk show. Smith attempts to take the high ground and point out the perceived hypocrisy of The Sun suing Ehrlich for his blackout of Nitkin and Olesker, while pulling the same stunt in silencing Kane on WBAL’s airwaves. While I recoil at The Sun’s cowardly invocation of the First Amendment in the Ehrlich decision, I don’t blame the bosses there for getting a little payback against WBAL.

Smith’s article is self-serving in a way that puts him in the same gutter as Timothy Franklin. He speculates, but doesn’t name names, that “there is a continuing agitation amongst certain of Kane’s colleagues and bosses that he would deign to appear on a program they so loathe. Two, they don’t just dislike my [conservative] views; they despise the influence that WBAL Radio itself has in this area’s public debate.”

These days, I’m not sure if any organ of the media has much influence on the way citizens vote, but Smith has proved his ability to brown-nose his own masters at WBAL. The following line of reason really had me chuckling: “Put simply, the biggest beneficiary of Greg’s being on my radio program every other Wednesday was his employer. The Tribune Company, which owns The Sun, is well aware of the usefulness of what we might call multi-media synergy.”

Never mind that using the word “synergy” in 2005 is a linguistic misdemeanor, the idea that Kane, whose columns are often in direct contrast to the Sun’s editorials and fellow local columnists (those that remain, at least), helps the paper by discussing current events with Ron Smith is absurd. When I read Kane it’s often with a twinge of regret: His columns are superb and recall a long-ago era when The Sun was a nationally prestigious newspaper that offered readers a wide array of opinions.

Unlike Olesker, Kane is a contrarian, whose columns probably cause his supervisors more than occasional heartburn. On July 20, Kane took shots at both Ehrlich and Steele for caving into political pressure about the Elkridge Club fundraiser last month. He brings up the valid point that Democratic fuming about the Elkridge Club, a private institution that has forsaken tax breaks to maintain its membership policies, doesn’t square with the party’s endorsement of the Congressional Black Caucus, which receives taxpayer funds, for being “racially exclusive.” More inflammatory, he wrote: “It was politicians [mostly Democrats] who told us that the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision was based on privacy. . . . [I]t is Democrats who, for the most part, have been the ones hopelessly confused about the meaning of privacy. And they’re the ones who are downright hypocritical on the issue of race.”

These are the opinions of a middle-aged black man who’s also opposed to affirmative action. You can see why The Sun doesn’t want its product associated with such views on a radio show. But, like Ehrlich, I don’t blame the paper’s decision-makers one bit.

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