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January 4, 2006

A Tale of Two Introductions

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Tim Franklin was brought on board by Baltimore’s Sun in January 2004 to navigate the paper through the treacherous waters that has become the newspaper business in a new era. In December 2005, Bo Harmon was brought on board to navigate Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich through the treacherous waters that we have come to know as Maryland politics for the next election.

Each gentleman is well accomplished in their professions and came to Maryland with certain reputations. What does a analysis look like when comparing how well each have been welcomed to our great state?

In the case of Mr. Harmon, The Sun only told a misleading portion of the story. However, when one is informed of the rest of the story, quite a different picture emerges.

As you will see, if that approach had been employed when Mr. Franklin first came to town, it would have been misleading. When is The Sun going to retract their misleading “news” article on Mr. Harmon and set the record straight?

Let’s begin by comparing the articles on Governor Ehrlich’s hiring of Bo Harmon in the December 10, 2005, The Sun article entitled “Ehrlich hires '06 director,” with the coverage by the Gazette on December 16, “Don’t credit Harmon, says former boss.”

The first several paragraphs of The Sun’s piece reads:

“In the first major step toward building a campaign team, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has hired a political director whose major credit is the successful race he ran to unseat a former Georgia senator and crusading war veteran that has Democrats there still crying foul four years later.

Bo Harmon, a veteran of the National Republican Congressional Committee and other GOP organizations, as well as manager of Saxby Chambliss' campaign against then-Sen. Max Cleland, said yesterday that he is coming to Maryland to get the word out about Ehrlich's accomplishments.

Democrats here and in Georgia immediately criticized the hire, saying Ehrlich is bringing to Maryland a virtuoso of nastiness who attacked the patriotism of Cleland, an Army veteran who lost three limbs in Vietnam.

"Bo Harmon ran one of the most despicable campaigns in the history of Georgia, if not the nation," Georgia Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Kahn said in a statement.”

Compare the above with what the Gazette wrote:

“Could it be that all the outrage being spilled on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s new campaign manager is based on a case of mistaken identity?

Yes, says the man who hired Bo Harmon as campaign manager in the successful attempt to unseat Democratic Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia in 2002. Cleland’s defeat by Republican Saxby Chambliss outraged Democrats. They charged that GOP television ads unfairly portrayed the decorated veteran — who lost three limbs in the Vietnam War — as soft on national defense and terrorism, even linking him to Osama bin Laden.

Harmon, however, had nothing to do with the development of the ads or the strategy in the Chambliss campaign, according to Tom Perdue, a longtime GOP operative who was media consultant and top strategist in the race against Cleland.”

Why is Mr. Harmon in the news?

How would The Sun have liked it if similar reporting had been applied when Tim Franklin was hired? Any journalist with an attitude could have drawn broad-sweeping conclusions from isolated moments in Mr. Franklin’s career and unilaterally presented their conclusions as fact.

Sling grits in any partisan NASCAR/Dale Earnhardt fan organization in Orlando, FL, and one can be sure that 50 percent of every one splattered would have an “interesting quote” about Mr. Franklin. Would that be fair? You decide for yourself.

Both Mr. Franklin and Mr. Harmon have their harsh critics from their “last campaign.” Who really cares? Each needs to be judged by what they do in Maryland.

According to The Sun web site, “Tim Franklin became The Sun's editor and senior vice president in January 2004. Before joining The Sun, Franklin served as editor of the Orlando Sentinel for three years and prior to that as editor of the Indianapolis Star.

One can only be sure that if any reporter had wanted, he could have interviewed folks from Orlando or Indianapolis and cherry-picked some pretty alarming quotes.

Have you read the 5,177-word question and answer article Baltimore’s City Paper did with Mr. Franklin on August 24, 2005, entitled “Who Is This Guy?”

The City Paper asked some hard questions and gave Mr. Franklin a chance to respond. The City Paper introduced Mr. Franklin with these words:

“The career Tribune Co. man was replacing editor William K. Marimow, whose abrupt firing shocked many reporters already nervous about Tribune’s intentions for the 168-year-old paper it acquired in 2000. Was the 43-year-old editor of the Tribune-owned Orlando Sentinel dispatched to Baltimore to shore up the Sun’s name as a regional powerhouse with a national reputation for excellence?”

In the interview, the City Paper asked:

“You’ve made national headlines at every paper you’ve edited. At the Indianapolis Star you directed aggressive coverage of Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight, whose resignation you had previously requested in a 1997 personal essay in the Chicago Tribune. At the Star you suffered the wrath of a community that worshipped Knight and the Hoosiers.

At the Orlando Sentinel you received loads of hate mail from readers appalled when the paper demanded – and sued for – autopsy photos of NASCAR hero Dale Earnhardt, after he died in a race-car crash.

Less than a year into your tenure at The Sun you sued again, demanding that a court overturn the governor’s ban on Nitkin and Olesker.

Most recently, you’ve practically courted the enmity of conservative talk radio by forbidding Sun news reporters from appearing on WBAL-FM.

Why is Tim Franklin in the news so much?”

At this point, what impression does one have of Mr. Franklin? Throw in a few negative quotes from some rabid Dale Earnhardt fans and you have “Frankenstein Franklin.” How about a few tidbits from Jim Clark at the Orlando Magazine, a frequent critic; or a quote from Theresa Earnhardt, the Dale Earnhardt’s widow?

Perhaps what is important is that Mr. Franklin was given an opportunity to put the Dale Earnhardt controversy into context? Would not it have been fair if Mr. Harmon had been afforded a similar courtesy?

Once you read Mr. Franklin’s response, it sheds things in a much different light:

“That’s probably also the most misunderstood thing I’ve been through. We never, ever, intended to have a reporter go and grab the autopsy photos and put them on the front page of the newspaper. Earnhardt was the fourth driver to die in nine months, and it looked like – and in fact it was later confirmed by one of the doctors – that all four of them died from the exact same injury, head whip.

So we wanted a doctor, one of the leading experts in the country, to look at the photos and do a medical report, so we could then show the public what happened. The end result of that was pretty damn positive, in the sense that the Duke University doctor did go in and do the report, confirming that Earnhardt had died the same way all these other drivers had died, and it led to the most sweeping reforms in the history of auto racing, and mandating helmet restraints. And as a result of that, not a single race-car driver has died since.”

The Sun unfairly maligned Mr. Harmon when he came to town. Gee, one wonders why members of the governor’s administration are so hesitant to talk with The Sun. The Sun can dish out the un-fair criticism of others, under the pretentious banner of unbiased journalism – yet arrogantly reject responsibility for their own transgressions.

Governor Ehrlich’s campaign manager, Bo Harmon, and The Sun’s editor and senior vice president, Tim Franklin, are to be welcomed to Maryland and afforded the courtesy of being praised and or criticized by what they do in Maryland.

When is The Sun going to correct the unfair picture they painted of Mr. Harmon? Just wondering?

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at:

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