Late last year, The Baltimore Sun inked a deal with conservative blog Red Maryland to provide content for a new blog and weekly column. But save one piece from Red Maryland's Mark Newgent, the paper has yet to explain this decision or how it plans to deal with potential issues with writers' conduct and conflicts of interest.
On November 19, Red Maryland's Mark Newgent published a piece in the Sun announcing that the paper "approached [Red Maryland] about providing quality conservative content for baltimoresun.com and The Sun's op-ed page in print," ending his post with "welcome to the resistance!" On their radio show, Red Maryland editors Brian Griffiths and Greg Kline further explained how the paper noticed conservatives in its comment section rebutting the opinion page and decided to approach Red Maryland with a partnership. Talks began in the summer of 2013, and the two reached an agreement in mid-November to begin publishing content on both a dedicated Red Maryland blog as well as a weekly column in the Friday edition of the Sun.
Red Maryland began as a political blog almost six years ago and boasts that it was named "one of Maryland's best political blogs by The Washington Post." Its staff also contributes to other conservative blogs such as Red State and WatchdogWire.com, the latter of which is run by the Franklin Center, a group known for its shadowy right-wing mega donor funding sources.
Since Red Maryland writers began writing for the Sun, they've speculated that a consulting firm is running several major projects in the state, calling Maryland's government an "oligarchy," that Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-MD) and his administration are misleading the public when they say the state budget is balanced, and demonized a proposal to legalize marijuana in the state as a push for "full legalization of all drugs." Every piece had virtually no evidence to back its claims.
Given Red Maryland's prominence on the website and in print, the Sun's silence on the hire is particularly concerning for multiple reasons:
- Is the paper going to release its own explanation as to why it hired Red Maryland writers?
- Is the paper going to allow the writers to promote clear falsehoods like Newgent did when he previously called climate change "a non-existent threat," or to write content like this criticizing musician Pete Seeger (who at the time had just turned 90) for being a "dedicated Stalinist," or like this one where a Red Maryland blogger compared Obama slogans to "the chorus of a Nazi marching tune"?
- Will the paper acknowledge that in his role as director of Maryland's Young Republicans, Brian Griffiths is also part of the state's Republican Party Executive Committee, meaning he has a vested interest in election outcomes?
- If and when the blog begins to discuss the GOP primary for governor, is the paper going to acknowledge the public spat Red Maryland had with a supposed campaign staffer for gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar in which one Red Maryland blogger went so far as to call a then-anonymous writer for an anti-Red Maryland site "the biggest, most cowardly, p__sy to start a 'political' blog here in Maryland"?
- Given that Red Maryland has been cited as a conservative voice in the Sun's news section at least once over the past year, will the paper disclose that Red Maryland is also employed by the paper and reflect that in news coverage of Red Maryland's actions going forward?
With the writers' explicit goal of setting "as many fires as possible in order to weaken the one-sided bent" of the editorial page, these questions and more are what the Sun should expect going forward.