The Editorial Prerogative

In a very interesting editorial this morning in the Baltimore Sun, the Sun’s editorial board pointed out the lengths to which Martin O’Malley’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation will go to make it look like Maryland has a rosy jobs picture. 

In an ideal world, we’d like to think that the state government would give the straight, unadorned truth about what’s going on with the economy. But it is hard to come up with anything but a political explanation for the department’s consistently rosy interpretations of the jobs figures. Gov. Martin O’Malley, coming to the end of his two terms and looking to the national stage, has crafted a narrative about his tenure that offers Maryland as a model  for the nation in its focus on education, research and entrepreneurship. A so-so job market, or one with some inconvenient ups and downs, doesn’t fit the story.

The Sun‘s panglossian view of good government, in this instance, clashes with the reality of the Potemkin Village that is Martin O’Malley’s record here in Maryland.

Continuing on, the piece picks up on something that we have been talking about at Red Maryland for some time, and that Larry Hogan has harped about during this 2014 campaign; the need to address Maryland’s business climate by lowering taxes and rolling back onerous regulations and impediments to business.

[T]he federal government’s budget cutbacks are unquestionably having an effect in Maryland, and the state would do well — particularly during a gubernatorial election like the one we’re having now — to talk about strategies for diversifying the economy and coping with the likelihood of more government spending reductions in the future. But that won’t happen if we let political spin get in the way of a forthright appraisal of the facts.

The editorial went further than that, though. The piece included references to the 2010 incident where the O’Malley Administration set out to cover-up unflattering job numbers during O’Malley’s re-election campaign.

Lest you call us too cynical about something so inconsequential as a departmental press release that only a tiny fraction of Marylanders actually read, recall this. In 2010, amid Governor O’Malley’s rematch with Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Democrat had been highlighting Maryland’s job growth during the first several months of the year. Then, in August, DLLR briefly posted on its website a news release titled, “Maryland’s Market Stalls During July.” It further noted “declining consumer confidence and spending” and concluded that “Maryland’s economic recovery faltered.”

Emails released through a Public Information Act request by two Republican leaders in the legislature revealed a scramble at DLLR to pull down a report “diametrically opposed” to the “eventually-approved messaging.” At one point, the agency’s communications director wrote to other staffers “Whatever we can do to make it disappear, we need to do it. That’s coming straight from the top.”

It is interesting that the Sun would reference this story, which we covered extensively here at Red Maryland, culminating in Mark’s two-part chronology of events regarding the cover-up (Read Part I and Part II). It acknowledges, possibly for the first time in a Sun editorial, that the story presented by O’Malley Administration’s doesn’t exactly stand up to strict scrutiny, and that every conceivable effort has been made by the Martin O’Malley and Anthony Brown to present a fictionalized version of the truth. It’s a refreshing differentiation from the usual defense of the Maryland status quo.

There is, however, a stark contrast between these type of editorials written toward the end of summer when fewer readers (and voters) and paying attention, and the bread and butter editorials of the Fall. Despite the knowledge of the cover-up (among other noted issues) with O’Malley’s first term, the Sun endorsed O’Malley in 2010 and doubled-down on the O’Malley years by endorsing Anthony Brown in the Democratic Primary. And this fall, the Editorial Board will almost certainly endorse Anthony Brown over Larry Hogan in the General Election as well.

The Editorial Board of the Sun continues to send mixed messages on these issues. Is the Editorial Board for good government? Or is the Editorial Board content to continue to serve as, in the words of the late Ron Smith, the North Calvert Street Democratic Marching Society? That’s something for Andy Green and the rest of the guys and gals on the Editorial Board to decide. It is the editorial prerogative for the Sun to support and endorse whatever ideas and candidates that they see fit. They can choose to on one hand lament the need for the politicization of basic government while simultaneously endorsing the ideology and candidates who engage in that politicization. They can continue to write about the need for change while embracing the status quo. But the cognitive dissonance between the two messages are real, and goes a long way in explaining the diminution in status of the Sun’s editorial page and the shrinking impact of their message their readership for some time.

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