Maryland daily receives apology from council member

Feb 16, 2015

By Stanley Schwartz
Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary

FREDERICK, MD—Angry that the local daily had quoted him in a story about parking problems at the county office building, County Council member Kirby Delauter, R-District 5, lashed out in a Facebook post, threatening to sue The Frederick News-Post for using his name without his permission.

It wasn’t long before Delauter’s frustration became humor fodder for just about everyone. An online editorial lambasting the councilman by the News-Post sat inconspicuously on the daily’s website until it was picked up and shared—and then shared again and again. The editorial used his name 28 times. (See the full editorial on Page 4.) News of Delauter’s anger over the use of his name in a news story made it to “The Rachel Maddow Show.” From there, it went international.

“Our reporter wrote a story the day before about (Delauter) being upset over the complete lack of parking space at the county office building,” said News-Post Managing Editor Terry Headlee. “She could not get a hold of him, but she knew from previous comments what his position was on the matter,” he added.

He saw the article and posted a comment on Facebook that he never talked to the reporter and that his name was used without his permission. Delauter mentioned that the paper would be hearing from his attorney, said Headlee.

Reached at his office for comment, Delauter said he was too busy to be interviewed.

It happened right after the paper’s deadline, so the daily geared up and got an editorial online.

“It just snowballed from there,” Headlee said, adding that Delauter had not spoken with any News-Post reporter since an unflattering story about him appeared in the paper two months before last year’s November primary.

Headlee became inundated with requests for comments from other media from across the country and as far away as Australia. “And not just media outlets,” he added, “but from regular citizens.”

Headlee had planned on putting the editorial in the printed edition of the paper but decided against it after receiving a written apology from the Frederick County government. Three people were on the apology: Frederick County Executive Jan Garner, County Council President Bud Otis and Delauter.

In the news release, the council members said: “Frederick County Government values open and transparent government and believes that citizens have a right to know what the government is doing. Citizens deserve to have elected officials tell them the truth and share information honestly and fairly. Frederick County Government values the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of the press provided for in our country’s Constitution. It is a vital part of our democratic process.”

Farther down in the release, Delauter is quoted: “The First Amendment is alive and well in Frederick County. As a public figure working to maintain and improve the county, it can be very frustrating to feel misrepresented or misinterpreted by a local media outlet.

“Over my career I have fired off my fair share of angry e-mails, which in hindsight I wish I hadn’t. I can’t think of one that had a positive effect. Usually, they only served to escalate the conflict. I thought I had long ago learned the lesson of waiting 24 hours before I hit the send key, but apparently
I didn’t learn that lesson
as well as I should have.

“Of course, as I am an elected official, the Frederick News-Post has the right to use my name in any article related to the running of the county—that comes with the job. So yes, my statement to the Frederick News-Post regarding the use of my name was wrong and inappropriate. I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong.

“I got elected to serve all the citizens of northern Frederick County, Democrats as well as Republicans. I look forward to the local papers covering my effort in that regard.”

If Delauter had thought his previous angry missives had escalated the conflict before, they paled in comparison to what happened after his Facebook post.

Normally, Headlee said, the News-Post’s editorials posted online draw 1,000 to 2,000 hits. The editorial on Delauter generated more than 780,000 hits.

Twitter hashtags popped up with the councilman’s name. Tracking the metrics of the editorial, Headlee said, showed that on that Tuesday, it was the most talked about item in the country, and sixth in the world.

“It had the most hits of any editorial we’ve ever had,” Headlee added. “And probably will ever have.”

Headlee said he thought his reporter, Bethany Rodgers, had been a complete professional in her reporting and dealing with the aftermath of Delauter’s comments.

“She was very uncomfortable with this whole thing,” Headlee said. “She believes reporters should report, not become part of the story. That’s why she refused to do any interviews with any of the news outlets that called.”

Headlee had to pull her off the story and assign another reporter to cover it.

“As a public official, it’s part of his job to be quoted,” Headlee said. And the paper would continue to cover him whether he commented directly to the News-Post’s staff or not.

About a week after the incident, Headlee said that Delauter, at the urging of another council member, met with Rodgers offsite privately to talk about it. “The meeting was cordial, I heard, but they decided to agree to disagree on the incident.”