The Maryland Republican Party has removed a Facebook post in which it altered a headline to a story on a newspaper website that made it appear as though the General Assembly was repealing a controversial transportation scoring bill opposed by Gov. Larry Hogan.
The state party removed the post after multiple media outlets questioned the altering of the headline, which was later prominently posted on Hogan’s own Facebook page. Hogan has since changed the altered post on his Facebook account to reflect the actual Baltimore Sun headline.
“It’s not the practice of this office” to alter headlines, said Douglass Mayer, a Hogan spokesman.
Mayer said a staff member in the governor’s communications office saw the post on the Republican Party Facebook account and posted the link. He acknowledged that the headline was altered by that staff member to make it look identical to the Republican Party post.
“We thought it was the original headline,” Mayer said.
The governor’s office changed it back once media outlets, including the Baltimore Sun, questioned the post.
The altered headline comes at a time when there is a national discussion about the nature of news and so-called “fake news” and alternative facts following the election of President Donald Trump.
Patrick O’Keefe, political director for the Maryland Republican Party, acknowledged that the post, which contained the headline “Maryland Senate Committee Approves Road Kill Repeal w/Amendments,” began with the party’s Facebook account but said the post was not fake news.
“Most people know it as the road kill bill,” O’Keefe said in explaining why the headline was changed.
O’Keefe said the post was not, however, an attempt to mislead readers.
“The wording could have been done differently,” O’Keefe said and added that in the future they would likely avoid making changes to news story headlines.
The Baltimore Sun headline read, “Md. Senate committee crafts compromise on transportation scoring law.”
On standard Facebook accounts, links to news stories automatically generate the story and the headline written by the publication. Those headlines cannot be altered.
But on Facebook fan pages commonly used by businesses, organizations, public officials and even journalists, those same links generate a post with a headline that can be altered with a simple mouse click.
The Baltimore Sun story that the Republican Party and Hogan linked to outlined changes made to a bill proposed by Hogan.
The governor’s legislation sought to repeal the 2016 transportation project scoring law he vetoed, which the legislature voted to override.
The Senate adopted amendments proposed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. that remove the word repeal and effectively strip Hogan’s original language from the bill.
“That’s cute,” Mayer said.
Miller’s amendments delay by two years the implementation of the scoring model created by the legislature. The governor would be allowed to continue to fund local transportation projects as has been done prior to 2016.
“We’re not going to repeal the (2016) bill,” Miller told senators Tuesday.
The Department of Transportation would still continue to score projects per the 2016 bill but those scores would be used to compare how projects were funded with what the new law would have required. A seven-member panel of Democratic and Republican legislators and the secretary of transportation will review the two documents and could propose changes to the law.
However, if no changes are adopted by the end of the two years, the 2016 law takes effect and the governor would be required to use the new scoring program.
Both O’Keefe and Mayer, Hogan’s spokesman, said the changes are effectively a repeal.
“We’re willing to let the Senate president save some face,” Mayer said. “We don’t care what the Senate president calls it, we’re just happy the disastrous effects of the bill they passed aren’t going forward next year or the year after and likely will not in any year after that.”