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Urban Rhythms

Public Affairs Reporting

By Wiley Hall III | Posted 9/5/2001

I'm generally not one for shooting the messenger, unless maybe the messenger comes slouching into my throne room late, with his hat all turned around backwards and the message so crumpled up in his greasy little hands that you can hardly read it. Even then, you understand, I'd be shooting the messenger for style rather than for substance.

But the messengers who brought us word that Gov. Parris Glendening may be sleeping with one of his deputy chiefs of staff ought to be shot, then whipped like curs, then drawn and quartered, and finally tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a rail. This was a sleazy intrusion into the governor's personal life, sleazily delivered, and for sleazy motives. The only ones who emerged from this affair with dignity intact were the governor, who had his aides declare "no comment" and refused thereafter to be baited, and the people of Maryland, who reacted to the message with the collective yawn it deserved.

So here is one of those rare instances where we are justified in not just shooting the messenger, but in kicking his butt for good measure.

Let's start with state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a quarrelsome, nettlesome, tiresome little man. Schaefer's act, which seemed cute when he was mayor of Baltimore, got old real quick when he was governor. Now he's nothing but a crotchety pain in the butt.

Schaefer apparently objected to Glendening's decision to turn off a fountain at Government House in order to conserve water. The fountain had been installed there by the late Hilda Mae Snoops, who served as official hostess during Schaefer's two terms as governor. The comptroller publicly insisted that the governor turn the fountain back on, then, unwilling to take "no" for an answer, made an open appeal late last month to Jennifer Crawford, Glendening's deputy chief of staff. Smirking and grinning, Schaefer described Crawford as "the big boss," his "court of last resort," and the person who really "runs things" in Annapolis.

Those comments seemed petty and snide enough, even without the inside scoop behind the smirky tone. But then The Washington Post took Schaefer's bait and decided to let us in on the real deal. The paper reported on Sept. 1 that Glendening--who has been separated from his wife, Frances Hughes Glendening, since July 2000--has a "personal relationship" with his unmarried deputy chief of staff. Post reporters observed the governor creeping out of Crawford's home during the wee hours of the morning several times this summer. And Crawford "has been included in the small circle of aides" who accompany the governor on trips out of state. Her salary, the Post reported, has grown from $71,812 to $103,588 in less than four years.

It is important, when doing such stories, to explain to the readers why they should care. In this case, reporters Daniel LeDuc and Lori Montgomery spent most of the story explaining why this alleged affair doesn't matter. Apparently, there's no law or regulation that forbids state supervisors from sleeping with an employee. There's no evidence that Crawford got her promotions and pay increases unfairly. And the paper could report only vague, unfounded, and unattributed rumors that the relationship had affected the governor's ability to do his job.

Of course, Michael Steele, the chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, called the alleged affair "an absolute embarrassment to the state of Maryland." But as head of the opposition party, Steele would be remiss if he didn't try to wring what advantage he could out of this miserable affair. Most other political leaders have declared, correctly, that the governor's love life is none of their business.

It is important to note that there are occasions when the public needs to know such things. For example, it becomes public business if the governor had promoted his alleged mistress solely because of their relationship, or if one or the other had exchanged sex for favors. It could conceivably be worth reporting if the relationship figured to involve the governor in a bitter, debilitating divorce, or if the governor had become so besotted with his new love that he was unable to do the job.

In each of those circumstances, however, the effect of the relationship is more important than the fact of the relationship. Reporters would have been better employed seeking documentation of any such effects, rather than lurking outside a townhouse to chart the governor's comings and goings.

The real story is not that there may or may not be a new love in Parris Glendening's life. The real story is the lack of judgment shown by the people who brought us this news. Our state comptroller is a small-minded creature who apparently will stop at nothing to get his way. And the reporters at the Post are, at best, gullible dupes who had no better sense than to go along with him.

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