Robert Rector: People like Kirby Delauter a Threat to Freedom of Speech

By Rector, Robert | Pasadena Star-News, January 10, 2015 | Go to article overview

Robert Rector: People like Kirby Delauter a Threat to Freedom of Speech


Rector, Robert, Pasadena Star-News


Ever hear of Kirby Delauter?

Probably not. He's an obscure councilman from Frederick County, Md. who was something less than a household name until this past week.

That's when he threatened a local newspaper with legal action because it used his name without his permission. Really.

The story concerned a debate about Council parking spaces, a minor dust-up in which he was mentioned only briefly.

But it appears that Delauter had a long-simmering feud with Frederick News-Post reporter Bethany Rogers who wrote the parking space piece and decided the time was right to engage in a tirade.

"Shame on Bethany Rodgers for an unauthorized use of my name and my reference in her article today," he thundered. "She contacted me by phone yesterday, I did not return her call and did not authorize any use of my name or reference in her article.

"Use my name again unauthorized and you'll be paying for an attorney," he threatened. "Your rights stop where mine start."

Aside from his embrace of an indefensible position, there are several interesting aspects to this story.

First, Delauter is the first politician I can recall in multiple decades of newsgathering who was trying to keep his name out of the paper.

Oh sure, there have been assorted elected officials over the years who got lockjaw when questions about their sobriety or marital fidelity arose.

And I'm sure Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and City Manager Michael Beck, who find themselves presiding over a City Hall awash in allegations of a $6.4 million embezzlement scam, would just as soon not have to chat with the media any time soon.

But most politicians go to great lengths to get local media coverage whether they are touting a piece of legislation or honoring a crossing guard. Visibility means votes. As "Big Tim" Sullivan, a high-profile political figure who was part of the Tammany Hall political machine in New York City once said, "I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right."

Second, Mr. Delauter's itchy trigger finger thrust him into the national spotlight as a poster boy for First Amendment abuse.

His rant went viral on social media spreading his name far and wide as did the response from the paper's managing editor Terry Headlee who wrote, "Kirby Delauter can certainly decline to comment on any story. But to threaten to sue a reporter for publishing his name is so ridiculously stupid that I'm speechless."

The Frederick News-Post then published an editorial response to the news, titled "Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter," in which the name "Kirby Delauter" appears 28 more times. …

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