Councilman Kirby Delauter, in Fredrick County, Maryland, recently threatened to sue a local paper because, as he said, he had not “authorized” a reporter to use his name. Really. Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Threat Was Made on Facebook
Delauter took to Facebook Saturday to respond to an article written by Frederick News Post reporter Bethany Rodgers, who was covering a disagreement on the Fredrick County Council over parking spaces. Calling it a hit-piece, the elected official told the reporter she was not “authorized” to use his name.
“So let me be clear…………do not contact me and do not use my name or reference me in an unauthorized form in the future.”
Responding to the post on Sunday, Rodgers said she was not required to obtain authorization:
“First of all, there is no requirement to get a person’s authorization in order to mention them in the paper, particularly if that person is an elected official,” Rodgers wrote in a comment below the original post. “It is not just our right but our responsibility to report on people like you, who occupy positions of trust in our government, and I make no apologies for doing that.”
Delauter then said legal action would be pursued:
“Use my name again unauthorized and you’ll be paying for an Attorney. Your rights stop where mine start.”
The post garnered about 50 “likes” and comments, before it was removed.
2. The Paper Did Not Take the Threat Seriously
In an editor’s note published Monday, the Frederick News Post mused humorously how they would comply with the councilman’s request.
The paper’s editors were not shy about how they felt:
“In fact, we spent quite some time laughing about it. Kirby Delauter, an elected official; Kirby Delauter, a public figure? Surely, Kirby Delauter can’t be serious? Kirby Delauter’s making a joke, right? “
The editorial, titled, “Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter,” played with the idea of “an entire editorial of nothing but ‘Kirby Delauter’ repeated over and over again.” In fact, if you look at only the first letter of every paragraph in the editorial, it spells out “KIRBY DELAUTER.”
They thought of using his initials, referring only to the theme of his campaign as well as some other, less conventional approaches:
“Could we get away with “K-Del”? Or we could simply go with the Harry Potter-esque ‘He Who Shall Not be Named.’ (Cue the lightning strike and peal of thunder.)”
3. He Doesn’t Have a Case
In his coverage of the threat and response on WashingtonPost.com, Eugene Volokh, who teaches free speech law, religious freedom law and church-state relations law and other types of law at UCLA’s School of Law noted that, in fact, there’s a thing called “freedom of the press” in the United States.
“In our country, newspapers are actually allowed to write about elected officials (and others) without their permission. It’s an avantgarde experiment, to be sure, but we’ve had some success with it.”
The Frederick News Post, too, acknowledged that the threat might be merely a way of throwing political weight around. The paper wrote:
“We need to make one serious point the councilman needs to hear and understand: We will not bow to petty intimidation tactics because a local politician thinks he can score political points with his base throwing around empty threats.”
4. Delauter’s Threat Created a Story Where There Was None
In addition to the Washington Post’s coverage of the threat, NPR also took a jab at the councilman, noting that, in the original article with which Delauter was first offended, his name was mentioned “exactly once.” The BBC also published a piece about how Kirby Delauter took over social media, even inspiring a faux Twitter account.
It was also a trending hashtag.
5. The Argument Was Politically Partisan
In his original post on Facebook, Delauter admonished Rodgers, saying she had elected to “sell your soul for the liberal agenda” at the paper. Though Rodgers did not directly respond in a political manner, her paper reported that Councilman Billy Shreve, in defense of Delauter, said “media outlets are cowards and they hide behind the label of journalists and that’s a bully pulpit to expand their liberal” agenda.
The paper responded that the “liberal agenda” line is something of a red herring:
“Discernibly, though, Kirby Delauter’s ignorance of what journalism is and does is no joke, and illustrates one disturbing aspect too prevalent in conservatives’ beliefs: That the media are all-liberal stooges hell bent on pursuing some fictional leftwing agenda. Generally this ‘fact’ is bleated when the facts on the ground differ from conservative talking points.”