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US official’s threat to keep name out of print backfires

January 7, 2015

A local official in the state of Maryland might need to rethink his strategy for keeping his name out of print.

The name Kirby Delauter was published Tuesday in newspapers, websites, news and opinion blogs and seemingly every corner of the Internet after he threatened to sue his local newspaper if it dared to publish his name without his permission.

Mocking messages filled Twitter with the hashtag #kirbydelauter, which was trending among the top 10 most popular subjects in the U.S. on Tuesday evening. A Google search for the name Kirby Delauter on Tuesday evening turned up more than 37,000 results.

The trend began after the Republican Frederick County Councilman told a Frederick News-Post reporter in a Facebook post: “Use my name again unauthorized and you’ll be paying for an attorney.”

The paper responded by ridiculing his demand.

“I just don’t know how to respond to a request that stupid,” Terry Headlee, managing editor of the 33,000 daily circulation newspaper, told The Associated Press on Tuesday in a telephone interview.

The News-Post did respond by posting an advance look at its Sunday editorial on the newspaper’s website. It pointed out that Delauter’s demand ignores, among other things, the right of a free press guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

But the newspaper could not resist mining the rich opportunities for sarcasm that Delauter’s demand offered.

There was the editorial’s headline: “Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter.”

And the body of the editorial, describing the laughter that his demand provoked and exploring the ways The News-Post might henceforth refer to Delauter without using his name. Perhaps “K---- D-------.” Or “Councilman (Unauthorized).”

Capping it off, the first letter of each paragraph spelled out: K-I-R-B-Y-D-E-L-A-U-T-E-R.

Delauter, a general contractor, didn’t respond to telephone and email messages from The Associated Press.

News-Post county government reporter Bethany Rodgers — the subject of Delauter’s ire — tweeted that the councilman didn’t mention his sudden notoriety during opening comments at a council meeting Tuesday.

Delauter had objected to a recent story by Rodgers that said Delauter shared another councilman’s concern about a shortage of reserved parking spaces for councilmembers at the county office building. Delauter wrote in his Facebook post that he had refused to be interviewed for the story because Rodgers had misrepresented his comments in the past.

Headlee said it’s the newspaper’s job to hold elected officials accountable by name for their words and deeds.

“If he doesn’t want to be held accountable, he needs to seriously consider whether he’s cut out to serve the public,” Headlee said.

Even if Delauter does sue, a lawsuit wouldn’t likely go far.

Washington Post blogger Eugene Volokh, who teaches free speech law at the University of California in Los Angeles, wrote online Tuesday: “In our country, newspapers are actually allowed to write about elected officials (and others) without their permission.”

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