Media Watch IV on the Race for Maryland’s Governorship: The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun Update and an Adjudication of Zurawik’s Complaint

–Richard E. Vatz

In recent evaluations of media coverage of the 2010 Maryland Governor’s race, this blogger has found major improvement in the fairness of reporting by The Baltimore Sun’s main campaign writers and less fair coverage by The Washington Post’s John Wagner. The last couple of weeks of Sun and Post print media coverage of the Maryland gubernatorial campaign have solidified the validity of these observations but have also pointed to the necessity of some qualifying points.

The Post’s analysis by Aaron C. Davis of the O’Malley campaign’s radio ads in yesterday’s paper (June 27, 2010) was nearly exemplary. After an opening stumble in which writer Davis commits a non sequitur by concluding that the Governor’s ads alone “indicate that O’Malley (D) and Ehrlich (R) intend to resume the same sort of in-the-mud and in-your-face tactics that both employed when they faced off four years ago,” the Post writer’s front page story dissects the Democrats’ ad claims clearly, fairly and thoroughly.

The ads, Davis points out, follow earlier false innuendo in Democratic Party campaign tactics asserting that Gov. Ehrlich has contributed to birther conspiracies. The inaccuracy of the claims that Gov. Ehrlich is or was a lobbyist is unambiguously exposed, while Gov. O’Malley’s defense is included, along with discussion of some of the complexities of Gov. Ehrlich’s work at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. Davis’s article also makes the critical observation that Ehrlich was being attacked for voting approval of a “2001 measure in Congress…[that] passed almost unanimously with support from every Maryland Democrat in the House.” The article ends with Ehrlich’s take on the persuasive power of the recent O’Malley ads.

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For his part Post writer John Wagner continues to seem to be simply a subtle critic only of the Ehrlich campaign. As political analyst Blair Lee noted days ago, he (Wagner) wouldn’t even fact-check the O’Malley ads and instead took another irrelevant, snarky shot at Ehrlich, shots which seem to be in every campaign article about the ex-governor. Writer Wagner’s contempt for Gov. Ehrlich simply should not be so consistently evident in articles which are ostensibly disinterested.

For the Sun’s part, there was yet another excellently fair and balanced piece by Annie Linskey (June 26) about the anti-Ehrlich ad matter and which also delved into oil politics around the country, but I have to wonder why someone is not doing ad watches of major, controversial advertisements, such as this latest Democratic oil lobbyist and lackey accusation against Gov. Ehrlich.

Finally, this weekend there was this kerfuffle: Sun media writer David Zurawik was apparently (I say “apparently” because I was at my in-laws’ house in Virginia and didn’t hear the show) attacked in a call by a frequent satirist, and I use the term loosely, who uses the nom de plume “Martin O’Smelly” on the Ehrlichs’ radio show.

The caller, the one incongruous part of the Ehrlichs’ show I would get rid of and have never enjoyed, implied that Zurawik is in the tank for Gov. O’Malley, a joke he (Zurawik) interpreted as intended to send him “a message” that would serve to “blunt any criticism by me of Ehrlich’s media performance through the lie that I am a friend of O’Malley’s and, therefore, the criticism is partisan.”

I am in a position to make a factual point on this matter and will offer an opinion as well. I know for a certainty that the Ehrlichs have no knowledge of what this caller will say every week. Second, I believe David Zurawik to be a writer of complete integrity. That does not mean that he lacks some Democratic premises in his reasoning, but he is not in the tank for anyone.

That said, I will disagree with him on his evaluation of the Ehrlichs’ show, a show that independent of my appearances displayed extensive knowledge of Maryland issues, excellent chemistry between its co-hosts and wonderful, clever, good-natured humor, save the tasteless, repeat caller who claims to be Governor Martin O’Malley while sounding like President Bill Clinton.

Professor Vatz is professor of political rhetoric at Towson University

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