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Steele says he won't talk with two Sun reporters

December 03, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele said Thursday night he does not intend to speak with two staff writers at The (Baltimore) Sun who are involved in a flap with Gov. Robert Ehrlich's administration, but he said he would allow his staff to respond to their questions.

Steele made the remarks to a reporter after he addressed a group of about 200 officials from counties around the state. The officials gathered for a dinner at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center Antietam Creek on Dual Highway for a semiannual conference of the Maryland Association of Counties.

Ehrlich's press office issued a memo in November to administration officials asking them not to speak with two Sun staff writers, columnist Michael Olesker and Annapolis bureau chief David Nitkin, citing unfair coverage by the pair.

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Steele was the keynote speaker at Thursday's event. He spoke shortly after Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who also made remarks about the media dispute.

After the event, Steele told a reporter he would not comment about a controversial land deal also involved in the media dispute, but he said Schaefer's comments about the media were "dead on. ... You don't go after the 800-pound gorilla that ... buys ink by the barrel."

However, Steele said, "I think the governor and I both agree that sometimes you take on the 800-pound gorilla, and you put your mark in the sand and say, 'Look, you know all we're asking for (is) a fair, accurate representation of what this administration is doing.

"We don't care if you agree or disagree with us, just don't make stuff up.'"

Steele said he had no plans of personally speaking with Olesker or Nitkin in the near future.

"If they have questions about anything I'm working on, they can talk to my staff, my communications people. ... They'll get an answer one way or the other."

Schaefer's comments were similar to statements quoted in Thursday's edition of The Sun.

During his comments before the MACo audience, Schaefer said he'd recently spoken with Ehrlich about the spat, and said he told the governor "you can't win. ... He will never have the Sun paper" on his side, and "the press can destroy you."

"I tried to tell him that, but he didn't believe me," Schaefer said. He then drew laughter from the crowd with a joke that Ehrlich would not return Schaefer's phone calls after their conversation.

Schaefer also called on the governor's office to back off on the controversial land deal in St. Mary's County.

Schaefer spoke well of Willard Hackerman, a developer who would have benefited from the land deal, but said if Ehrlich "is smart, he'll get away from this" and "won't be involved."

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