'The Sun' Blasts Md. Governor for Excluding Reporters From Press Events

By: Joe Strupp Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's effort to exclude The Sun of Baltimore's state house bureau chief from press events is being called unconstitutional by the Sun's attorneys, the paper reported. Sun lawyers have asked the Maryland attorney general to warn Ehrlich that such actions are wrong.

The Sun filed a federal lawsuit last month after Ehrlich's press office issued an order banning state employees from speaking with bureau chief David Nitkin or columnist Michael Olesker. The attorney general's office, representing Ehrlich, filed a motion to dismiss the case late last month, and the Sun in turn filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to have the ban lifted.

A hearing on the motions has been scheduled for Jan. 28 in federal court in Baltimore.

Last week, things got sticky again, the paper reported, when Nitkin tried to attend a briefing held by the governor. The Sun said he was barred by press secretary Greg Massoni and told it was a private briefing. All other reporters were allowed in, the paper added.

On a more recent occasion, the paper reported, the governor scheduled a briefing on medical malpractice legislation, and reporters were called to an "invitation-only press briefing." Nitkin did not receive an invitation, but another Sun reporter was invited.

Sun lawyer Charles D. Tobin sent a letter the state attorney general's office last week protesting the actions. Tobin noted that in the governor's motion to dismiss the case, the attorney general's office wrote that Nitkin and Olesker "remain free ... to attend press conferences."

Lawyers for the governor declined to comment on the communication because of the continuing litigation, the Sun reported.

George White, executive director of the Maryland-District of Columbia Press Association, called Ehrlich's order and the reason for it "ill-advised" and said the organization continues to hope it will be rescinded, the Sun reported. "As the top elected official in the state, the Governor should protect the free flow of information to the public, not inhibit it," White said in an e-mail to the Sun.

Tom Kunkel, dean of the journalism school at the University of Maryland, also criticized the governor's action yesterday.

"If he's going to have essentially press conferences, I think it's not all right for him to pick and choose who's there," Kunkel told the paper. "Everybody knows what's going on here, which also adds to the surreal quality of it. It would be silly except that it's important because the press are surrogates for the public."


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