Media Watch II on the Race for Maryland’s Governorship: The Baltimore Sun’s Improved Journalism

–Richard E. Vatz

Less than one short week (5 days to be exact) following some complimentary remarks in Red Maryland concerning an even-handed article in The Baltimore Sun on the Maryland Governor’s race (along with citing some pieces that were not so impressive), some even more auspicious Sun journalistic events have transpired.

In Friday’s edition of The Sun (and repeated in Sunday’s bulldog edition and only the bulldog edition) there were 2 columns on the race. One analyzes the race evenhandedly by comparing and contrasting it with the 1950 Maryland gubernatorial race. The other is Ron Smith’s consistently excellent column which, by including some compliments for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, produces for The Sun by April 2 of this election year what no op-ed article did throughout the entire election year in 2006: praise for the Republican gubernatorial nominee.

Then the regular Sunday, April 4, edition of The Sun runs a unique political article for that newspaper: a fair consideration of a matter the Democrats have tried to manufacture and turn into a salient issue: claiming Gov. Ehrlich is the devil term “lobbyist” and a lobbyist who has not comported to the legal requirements of such a position.

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Days ago, I summarized in Red Maryland the qualities necessary for fair reporting on political races: “…fairness in selection of: issues to cover, placement of stories, headlines to use, relevance of evidence cited and not cited, sources to interview, pictures to accompany articles, and general tenor of articles.”

Julie Bykowicz’s second straight fair political article in The Sun on the Maryland gubernatorial race — breaking that newspaper’s all-time record by two — has the following qualities: fair headline, fair sources, fair pictures, and the general tenor is fair as well. The article covers the question thoroughly, interviews both sides extensively, interviews the excellent and fair Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia’s director for their Center for Politics, points to examples of extensive lobbying by the accusers, and finds no legal violations by Gov. Ehrlich.

Read this paragraph and ask yourself if you remember ever reading even such a quote by a Republican strategist in The Sun: “ ‘The fact that they jumped out so ferociously shows their concerns about [Ehrlich’s] viability as a candidate,’ [Republican strategist Scott] Reed said. ‘All he has to do is ask if we’re better off today than they were four years ago. O’Malley’s team knows they’re vulnerable on that, and so they’re trying to change the subject.’ “

You think you may have read one? Okay, how about these two sentences by reporter Bykowicz: “But there’s a flaw in the Democrats’ argument. Ehrlich is not exactly a lobbyist.”

It’s easy to exaggerate the significance of one week of excellent journalism on the Governor’s race in The Sun, but this media critic thinks we might have fairness in this year’s news and op-ed coverage of the contest.

What a turnaround that would be from the contemptible pseudo-journalism of The Baltimore Sun in 2006.

Professor Vatz teaches Media Criticism at Towson University

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