ANNAPOLIS – A state lawmaker from Baltimore, miffed by an editorial in that city’s daily newspaper, wants the General Assembly to agree with him that newspapers should tell their readers whenever their political endorsements reflect their publishers’ views.
That was the case this past September, Del. Howard “Pete” Rawlings charged in testimony Wednesday, when The (Baltimore) Sun backed Mary Pat Clarke over Kurt L. Schmoke in Baltimore’s Democratic primary for mayor.
A spokesman for the Sun said it wasn’t so.
In a lead editorial 16 days before the Sept. 12 primary, the Sun reversed previous support for Schmoke and threw its clout behind Clarke. Even so, Schmoke soundly defeated Clarke and went on to secure a third term as mayor.
Rawlings told members of the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee that Sun Publisher Mary Junck had overruled the newspaper’s 12-member editorial board in deciding to back Clarke.
Rawlings, a Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, characterized the decision as an “extraordinary exercise of power” by a publisher who had “just come to town.” Junck became publisher of The Sun in January 1994.
Because the editorial was unsigned, Rawlings said, many Sun readers mistakenly believed it reflected the views of the editorial board, whose judgment, he said, they have come to trust over the years.
“There ought to be some footnote making it clear this is the publisher’s choice,” Rawlings said. He was explaining his resolution to “encourage” Maryland newspapers to disclose whenever publishers have influenced their political endorsements.
The resolution would not have the force of law.
Sun spokesman Michael L. Shultz denied that Junck had overruled the editorial board. That’s not possible, he said, because the newspaper’s endorsement decisions are not final until the publisher has been consulted.
“The publisher is part of it,” Shultz said.
He said Junck had been in Baltimore for two years when the endorsement was made and was “quite familiar with the city and its leaders and had met with many of them. “We oppose measures like this one because they kind of smack of coercion,” he said. “If they were anything but advisory they would be just plain unconstitutional.” -30-