Over the weekend I wrote about the evolving situation that started off when Joe Steffen wrote about Red Maryland the previous Sunday. Joe Steffen went after Red Maryland. He accused them of running a protection racket in the way they were soliciting advertising for their radio shows. He also criticized them for Mark Newgent, a Red Maryland contributor, and Jackie Wellfonder, a Red Maryland Network host, doing consulting work. Additionally, Wellfonder’s and Red Maryland’s early support for Larry Hogan was mentioned. Later that week, Michael Swartz inserted himself into the situation and then Red Maryland responded to Steffen’s claims and denied his allegations of a “protection racket” while seemingly implying that they might pursue legal action.
As I noted in my Saturday piece, it appeared to me that Red Maryland’s early Friday response was a result of The Baltimore Sun saying something to them. I received a no comment from a Red Maryland contributor late Friday when I asked if the Sun had contacted them. As it turns out, there was a good reason for that.
Yesterday, Media Matters reported on the events of March 7:
That same day, the Sun terminated their relationship with Red Maryland. In an email response to Media Matters, Sun Director of Marketing Mutchnik explained that the paper learned of the advertising solicitation and Newgent’s paid research work “late last week” and “formally ended our freelance relationship with Red Maryland” on March 7. “We also strive to avoid any conflicts of interest or the appearance of any conflicts among our staff and freelancers,” Mutchnik said.
The City Paper has also reported on the move now with this disclaimer at the bottom:
* This is part of a series of media-watch posts partly inspired by City Paper’s ownership by the Baltimore Sun Media Group.
From information I’ve seen, I would dispute what MMFA says about the late last week part of the timeline for the Sun learning of those facts. The original Steffen blog post appeared the previous Sunday and I it would appear they knew about it early in the week. Emails I received yesterday would also indicate that the information on the departure was apparently leaked to Media Matters from a source inside the Sun.
The email issue first mentioned by Steffen is something that appears to be a big mistake. I’m sure Red Maryland sent out marketing emails like that before they were blogging for the Sun as well. They made a mistake by including the Sun in that message. No matter how innocent their implications might have been, they should have known that nefarious inferences could and would be drawn by their enemies on the right and left.
One veteran politico noted that the marketing email was “just dumb” and a “questionable” decision. This same politico noted that:
Those guys were still thinking and behaving like bloggers. The Sun relationship required that they change their thinking.
It would also appear Mark Newgent’s consulting for Change Maryland and Larry Hogan played a major part in the Sun’s decision. A lot of people online knew that Newgent had done consulting for Change Maryland in the past. He didn’t hide it. A few knew more recently that he has been consulting for the Hogan campaign. Steffen’s piece brought both of these facts to a larger audience and resulted in more scrutiny. I’ve noted before that Red Maryland’s early endorsement of Hogan could cause them to have credibility issues in writing about the primary. Had full disclosure everywhere of Newgent’s consulting been handled a little better they might not have found themselves in this situation. For the record, Newgent points out to me that he never wrote about Larry Hogan or Change Maryland for the Sun and he personally made a conscious effort not to write about them at all.
I attempted to get a comment from Joe Steffen on yesterday’s developments and he only replied, “That’s a shame.”
Of course, conservatives or libertarians blogging at mainstream media outlets always have a short leash (e.g. Ben Domenech and Dave Weigel at WaPo.) The standards of what it takes to get rid of conservative bloggers at mainstream media outlets are much lower than for liberals. Of course, in the case of Weigel, it was conservatives who helped hound him out of the job, despite what conservative blogger Stacy McCain pointed out:
[O]nce the WaPo axed Ben Domenech, it was more than four years before they again tried a “conservative” blog. As someone who is BCC’d said to me on the phone Thursday, Dave is “about the best we can expect” from the Post. So there’s nothing to be gained by conservatives doing a takedown on Weigel, and perhaps a good deal to be lost.
The City Paper article pointed out that the Sun’s hiring of Red Maryland was a similar progression that happened at other papers including WaPo:
To cater to those readers, newspapers will often either groom their own in-house conservatives (TheSun did this years ago with the late Gregory Kane, who began as a reader firing off letters to the editor, was brought on as a street reporter and upon the shuttering of the Evening Sun, was promoted to columnist) or partner with an already-established conservative blog, which the paper did with Red Maryland last November.
Mark Newgent told me that Red Maryland “ruffled feathers on both sides.”
Right out of the gates, Democrats were upset about the alliance between the Sun and Red Maryland. In fact, I have confirmed that the O’Malley cronies at KO Public Affairs called the Baltimore Sun and threatened to sue them over the very first op-ed the Sun published by Red Maryland. KO Public Affairs has led astroturfing campaigns in support of speed cameras (while working for contractors seeking government money.) Those campaigns were covered by Bryan Sears, Watchdog Wire, and by me at my previous Baltimore blog.
Democrats in Annapolis have also verbally accosted Sun reporters about the Red Maryland alliance from the beginning. Additionally, Media Matters has had the Sun and Red Maryland in their sites. After Media Matters attacked them, a handful of people on the right who have had their own beefs with Red Maryland started pushing the MMFA posts online in attempts to damage Red Maryland.
MMFA previously attacked Red Maryland because of their efforts to expose the cronyism involving KO Public Affairs. They also hit Red Maryland for squabbles with supporters of Charles Lollar supporters. Those Lollar supporters at the time pushed the MMFA pieces, which is odd for supposed conservatives. MMFA also attacked Red Maryland on a pro-life op-ed that appeared in the Sun. Additionally, gun grabber Vinny Demarco (who is as liberal as you would expect on almost any issue) was shredded by Red Maryland in one of the pieces MMFA took issue with.
Media Matters receives the largest portion of its funding from George Soros-affiliated foundations and also receives large amounts of money from other liberal benefactors. Some of Red Maryland’s Republican detractors would apparently rather make common cause with O’Malley cronies in-state and Soros-funded outsiders if it means getting a meaningless win in some internal party struggle.
The grudges against Red Maryland by some (current and former) Lollar supporters go back before the Sun deal started. In fact, Matthew Adams attacked Red Maryland’s Brian Griffiths last summer for daring to talk to the Baltimore Sun on the record about internal GOP squabbles. Julie Brewington (more on her here) who has been a county and regional coordinator in the past for the Lollar campaign despite her protestations otherwise now, piled on and implied Griffiths had a mental illness. Of course, it was in all likelihood Lollar supporters who tried this and then paid my house a visit in the middle of the night after I didn’t cave. Some of them have continued to defame me since then and I’ll repeat what I said recently again: Maybe instead of spreading lies and libel about people, they should just shut up and get right with God and their personal liability carrier.
Additionally, former Lollar campaign manager Karen Winterling (more on her here) was doing a touchdown dance in the endzone on Facebook last night over the Media Matters piece as if she has actually won something (something that would be rare for her and many of the other Lollarites personally in a political campaign admittedly.) It makes me wonder – is it worse to be hired by the Lollar campaign or fired by the Lollar campaign? I’m sure Karen has an opinion on that.
It would seem petty political grudges and jealousy of others getting attention is more important to some than advancing the conservative cause. Of course this is a problem the whole Maryland GOP has. As I’ve said before, the only time the circular firing squad stops in the MD GOP is to shoot the messenger. It’s obvious that gaining political points against other Republicans is just as important to many as working to elect Republicans. Of course, gaining cheap political points against other Republicans is actually a feat that Maryland Republicans are capable of accomplishing. Electing Republicans on anything but a local level is another matter entirely.
Even if you disagree with his other characterizations of Red Maryland, Joe Steffen pointed out information that showed mistakes and errors by Red Maryland. The missteps in both how they handled disclosure of consulting and in the marketing techniques would have likely come out eventually anyway and caused a similar end result. As I’ve noted above, conservatives have a shorter leash (a.k.a. higher standards) than a liberal would have writing for a mainstream newspaper.
Ben Domenech left WaPo after liberals started going after him before he was even on the job. Dave Weigel left WaPo after conservatives hounded him out of the job. Some of these same conservatives were probably wishing for Weigel back after having to live through Jennifer Rubin’s Romney shilling during the 2012 primaries.
Here in Maryland, it appears that O’Malley’s cronies and the Soros-funded MMFA were out to get Red Maryland canned at the Sun from the beginning. Then, Republicans piled on and let their own feuds or jealousy fuel them into using the words and tactics of the hard left to trash Red Maryland. I doubt The Baltimore Sun will take a chance on any other conservative bloggers in the immediate future and I’m sure many short-sighted Republicans who hate the Sun and don’t get the big picture of engaging the broader culture will be happy with that.
Here’s a good response from former Republican candidate Katie Nash:
Obligatory Red Maryland/Baltimore Sun response – I can’t say I disagree with the Sun’s reasoning and you all know I vehemently disagree with my debate partner Gregory M Kline from time to time. Yet I thought it was cool when the Sun picked them up and really, it doesn’t bother me when someone disagrees with me (or endorses a weak candidate). Let’s let it go for goodness sakes. And sidebar, all of you who hoot and holler about how liberal the Sun is and how we should ignore Maryland’s newspaper – that’s amateur hour.
The Red Maryland era at the Baltimore Sun has ended and I’m sure the same Republicans who are gloating over Red Maryland no longer writing there will be the ones braying the most this fall about the Sun’s bias.
The infighting in the MD GOP is so fierce because the stakes are so small.