Federal Court Approves MD Gov's Retaliation Against Reporters

Bob Ehrlich, Republican Governor of Maryland, retaliated against the reporting of two Baltimore Sun reporters by barring all state employees from talking to them. The paper sued in federal court, claiming the First Amendment rights of reporter David Nitkin and columnist Michael Olesker were being violated. A lower court refused to hear their case, and a higher court ruled in favor of the governor.

Reports the Baltimore Sun on itself (unbiased, naturally):

4th Circuit judges J. Michael Luttig, Paul Niemeyer and William B. Traxler Jr. said they could not accept the newspaper's argument that the governor's directive "created a chilling effect any different from or greater than that experienced by The Sun and by all reporters in their everyday journalistic activities."

The judges said the reporters "have not been chilled to any substantial degree in their reporting, as they have continued to write stories for The Sun, to comment, to criticize, and otherwise to speak with the full protection of the First Amendment."

The article took issue with Ehrlich's claim that the two reporters were biased.

Ehrlich asserted that the ruling confirmed his contention - denied by the newspaper - that Nitkin and Olesker had been biased against him in their reporting.

Claims the Sun:

The ruling did not, in fact, address the journalistic principle of fair and objective reporting, and did not accuse Nitkin and Olesker of failing to abide by it. In essence, the judges weighed whether the reporters had been prevented from doing their jobs and concluded that they had not.

Timothy A. Franklin, editor of The Sun, said the governor should not be able to "retaliate against any citizen, not just a journalist, based on what they say or what they write."

"We don't agree with the ruling at all, but we've decided not to take it up to the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal," Franklin said. "We don't want this case to be an issue in the 2006 governor's race."

Apparently they don't want a mini-Rathergate, Maryland style, on their hands during an election year.

Gov. Ehrlich said the case "goes to the heart of this issue - the responsibility of every member of the press to report in a fair and objective manner, and the right to hold accountable those journalists who fail to adhere to these basic tenets of journalistic integrity."

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