Public officials unhappy with press coverage sometimes respond by freezing out the transgressing reporter, refusing interviews and ignoring messages.
Frederick County Council member Kirby Delauter (R) has added his own novel twist to the traditional silent treatment: He’s threatened to sue the local newspaper if it so much as prints his name without “authorization.”
“Use my name again unauthorized and you’ll be paying for an Attorney,” Delauter said in a Jan. 3 Facebook post addressed to Frederick News-Post reporter Bethany Rodgers. “Your rights stop where mine start.”
It took all of a day for the News-Post to disregard Delauter’s edict. Tuesday’s edition had a story detailing his Facebook screed and an editorial condemning it.
“We’ve been threatened [with lawsuits] on a number of topics, but never from an elected official,” managing editor Terry Headlee said. “Honestly, I thought it was a joke. I quickly realized he wasn’t joking.”
The threat reverberated on social media and was trending on Twitter, with many users posting or retweeting links to news stories about it, or composing messages that made sure to mention Delauter’s name.
The council member did not return phone or e-mail messages Tuesday. He issued his threat in response to a Jan. 3 story about petty scuffling between council members and County Executive Jan Gardner (D) over parking space assignments and office keys. Under the county’s new governing charter, which went into effect last month, Gardner has broad administrative powers that previously belonged to the five elected county commissioners, one of whom was Delauter.
Rodgers reported that Delauter had joined Billy Shreve, another former commissioner elected to the new council, in challenging Gardner’s decision to reserve just three parking spots for the seven-member panel on days when there are no scheduled meetings. She wrote that Delauter asked Gardner to give the council spaces designated for two of her top aides.
Delauter said in his Facebook post that he did not return a call from Rodgers about the parking issue “and did not authorize any use of my name.”
He did not challenge the accuracy of her story, but he said that after an earlier “hit piece” by Rodgers, he’d told her never to contact him again. That story disclosed disputes between Delauter and county municipalities about work performed by his family-owned construction company. It said Delauter threatened the mayor of Thurmont with legal action.
Headlee said the newspaper would continue to cover Delauter. “He is a member of the new County Council, and we’re going to cover the meetings and quote him,” Headlee said. “We’ll ask for interviews, and he can decline to comment.”