Can a Politician Stop a Newspaper From Writing About Him? Nope.

writer journalist

An elected official in Maryland recently threatened legal action against a reporter simply for trying to write an article about him. The official apparently thinks (wrongly) that anyone who wants to write about him must get his permission, even just to use his name! Who does this guy think he is?

Kirby Delauter, a member of the Frederick County Council, wrote to the reporter in a Facebook post:

“Use my name again unauthorized and you’ll be paying for an attorney. Your rights stop where mine start.”

Except that his rights definitely don’t start where he thinks they do. Especially as a public figure, he does NOT have the right to block anyone from publishing truthful information about him.

Thanks to the 1st amendment, the media (or anyone for that matter) can generally publish anything “newsworthy” or a “matter of public concern.” Which definitely, absolutely, without a doubt includes the actions that officials take in their official capacity. It’s what you sign up for when you run for office!

What if the reporter wrote false information about the official?

The official does claim in the Facebook post that the reporter wrote “lies” about him, though politicians say that about any bad press almost by default. However, if the reporter did publish blatant lies, then the official may have a claim against the reporter for defamation, since it would be unfairly damaging to his reputation. But the official would have to prove not only that the information is false, but also that the reporter intended to harm him, which is very difficult to prove.

Courts make it very difficult to sue reporters for defamation, since we as a society don’t want to encourage many such lawsuits. Basically we want to encourage reporters to write about public officials and we expect that officials will generally just deal with it. This Kirby guy apparently didn’t get the memo.

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