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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

A Kick in the Pants for the Baltimore Sun

Over at Sneaking Suspicions, there's a breakdown of the recent decision here in Maryland about the Baltimore Sun v. Governor Robert Ehrlich (PDF file) case. As a bit of background (in case you'd rather not read the PDF file), the Baltimore Sun Company had sued the Governor's office over a recent memo circulated forbidding state employees from speaking with columnist Michael Olesker and reporter David Nitkin, citing poor reporting and factual inaccuracies in their reporting. What made this so different was the fact that Ehrlich didn't do what other Governor's do, and that's privately speak with the newspaper company and try to get someone rotated out of the press pool. Ehrlich made it very public, very obvious about his displeasure with Nitkin's and Olesker's behavior and limited the scope to which they can acquire and report stories (all other Sun reporters have full access - these two do not).

The Baltimore Sun sued the Governor, citing that the ban violated the Sun's 1st and 14th Amendment rights in the Constitution. Anyone with a basic study in constitutional rights will tell you that's absurd - everyone but those two reporters are allowed full access to state employees. David Nitkin and Michael Olesker can still do their Public Information Act petitions, and can still attend open, public press meetings. What they are forbidden from doing is calling anyone within the administration to provide "context" for their reporting - that'll be something else for another reporter to do.

The judge in this case says essentially the same thing:
The enforcement of the Governor’s memorandum has been implemented in a way that is reasonably calculated to ensure the Sun’s access to generally available public information. The Sun seeks a privileged status beyond that of the private citizen; that desire is not a cognizable basis for injunctive relief.
The Baltimore Sun is trying to make itself above everyone else (ie, the public) in demanding exclusivity for acquiring information. They're completely ignoring the reason's behind the Governor's restriction, they're just furious that two of their own can't get everything they want at once. As far as the Sun is concerned, David Nitkin and Michael Olesker could flat out lie about everything and anything, but they shouldn't be punished for it because restricting them would somehow restrict the Sun as a whole. The Sun's "Ivory Tower Complex" isn't all that surprising, but it is indicative of a trend over print and electronic news publishing as a whole. Obviously, there was CBS being called on the carpet for stonewalling and obfuscating the facts over their acquisition of faked memos concerned President Bush's Air National Guard service. Then there was Eason Jordan of CNN being called for his remarks about soldiers targeting journalists deliberately in Iraq, without a shred of evidence to back it up. People like this expect to get away with this foolishness forever, strictly because they're "The Media" and that they claim to know better. Obviously, as the CBS debacle proves, they don't, and some people just aren't going to take it any more.

The days where the media gets to have the mindset that they're entitled to whatever they want to know, whenever they want to know, damn everything else (including even a base level of honesty and ethics), are numbered. The blogs of the world are going to be watching, ready to put the screws to anyone and everyone who think they can get away with things that other people cannot.