Paper responds to 'bullying' by councilman with name-calling

Frederick County Councilman Kirby Delauter threatened legal action against a local reporter if she didn't stop using his name without his permission.

Story highlights

  • UPDATE: Councilman admits he was wrong to threaten reporter over use of his name.
  • Paper responds using his name at least 29 times
  • Op-ed goes viral with more than 500,000 page views

(CNN)The Frederick News-Post has responded to what it calls "bullying" by a local councilman in the most, by its own admission, childish of ways: by name-calling.

The name it's calling: Kirby Delauter.
After Delauter, a councilman, threatened to take legal action if reporter Bethany Rodgers didn't stop printing his name without "authorization," the paper's editorial board responded in an op-ed that uses his name, "Kirby Delauter," 26 times.
    Actually 29, if you count the headline, which reads simply, "Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter." Or 30 times, if you factor in that each paragraph starts with the first letter of his name, spelling out K-I-R-B-Y-D-E-L-A-U-T-E-R.
    The war of words, and Kirby Delauter name-calling, began after the Frederick County, Maryland, councilman posted last Saturday on his Facebook page, which has since been taken down. The post said, "Shame on Bethany Rodgers for an unauthorized use" of his name in a story in which she referenced his position about parking spaces allotted to councilmen. He goes on to remind Rodgers that she needs "to know who (she's) dealing with," accusing her of selling her credibility for the "liberal agenda at the FNP."
    Delauter ended his post with a final warning to Rodgers, "Do not contact me and do not use my name or reference me in an unauthorized form in the future."
    Rodgers responded to his post a day later, saying, "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 said it's her right and responsibility to report on people like Delauter and she makes no apologies. She also said she was aware that Delauter had asked her not to call him anymore, but said she was acting out of "journalistic principle" by reaching out "to individuals who are a part of an article." Rodgers said she would continue to reach out to him for comment when appropriate.
    "Whether or not you return my calls," she wrote, "is up to you."
    Delauter pulled no punches, an hour later posting, "Use my name unauthorized and you'll be paying for an Attorney. Your rights stop where mine start."
    Terry Headlee, managing editor for the Frederick News-Post, said he never for a second considered honoring Delauter's demands to stop using his name. But anytime the paper or any of its reporters are threatened with a lawsuit, it's his responsibility to notify the paper's owners and publisher. Headlee said it was the publisher's idea during that Monday morning meeting for the paper to respond with an editorial.
    The Frederick News Post's op-ed begins rather tongue-in-cheek, using Delauter's full name in multiple references throughout the piece.
    "Surely Kirby Delauter can't be serious? Kirby Delauter's making a joke, right?" the piece, printed Tuesday, said. "How would we reference Kirby Delauter and do our job as journalists?"
    The board goes on, throwing out other options to using his name.
    "Could we get away with "K-Del?" the op-ed asks, or "The Councilman Formerly Known as Commissioner Kirby Delauter?"
    They even consider using references that "You, the reader, would still understand," like, "Sherbert Deluder" or "Derby Kelauter."
    Later the piece takes a more serious tone, expressing serious concern over Delauter's ignorance of journalism and the First Amendment, criticizing what they call an opinion of many conservatives, "that the media are all-liberal stooges hell bent on pursuing some fictional left-wing agenda."
    The paper's editorial board calls out one of Delauter's supporters, who accused media outlets of being "cowards" who "hide behind the label of journalists."
    "Cowards?" the editorial board writes, "Tell that to the families of the 60 journalists killed in 2014 ... all in pursuit of the truth."
    The Frederick News-Post's message to Kirby Delauter: "We will not bend to petty intimidation tactics."
    Cliff Cumber, the editorial page editor who wrote the piece, did so in record time, though Headlee said Cumber was, "saved by the Washington Post blogger," who, by writing, "Uh, Council Member: In our country, newspapers are actually allowed to write about elected officials (and others) without their permission." That blogger helped supply the "U" needed to spell "Delauter."
    Headlee said he didn't expect to get a response from Delauter about the editorial, which had been viewed an unprecedented half a million times and prompted Twitter memes and a hashtag campaign.
    But Wednesday, the man by the name Kirby Delauter had responded in a press release, titled, "Frederick County Supports Transparent Government."
    In it, Delauter said he was wrong and inappropriate to have said the paper couldn't use his name.
    "Of course, as I am an elected official, the Frederick News-Post has the right to use my name in an article to the running of the county," he said in a statement posted on the paper's website.
    "I'm not afraid to admit when I'm wrong."
    Delauter said he wishes he'd learned his lesson about "waiting 24 hours before I hit the send key," and conceded, "the First Amendment is alive and well in Frederick County."