Scott Kent:Thin skins are no excuse to weaken free speech
By Scott Kent
Published: Saturday, January 10, 2015 at 5:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 10, 2015 at 10:38 p.m.
What a dispiriting week for freedom of speech and the press that was. It began with comical absurdity and ended steeped in tragedy.
Last Monday, a county councilman in Frederick, Maryland, with a novelistic name — Kirby Delauter — became a well-deserved national punching bag. Upset with the coverage by the local newspaper, he complained on Facebook that he had not given the reporter for the Frederick News-Post permission to use his “name or reference” in a story, and intimated that if she did so again he would sue.
“Your rights stop where mine start,” he wrote.
That’s so incredibly wrong, I don’t even know where to begin. It’s like trying to respond to someone who just told you the earth is flat, or that Mike Huckabee would be the next president of the United States.
I have had interviewees decline to comment on a story, ask/demand that they not be quoted or threaten to sue if we printed something that was true. But I have never had someone, let alone a public figure, argue that the newspaper had no right to publish his name.
The ignorance of the First Amendment — by an elected official, no less — was astounding. Indeed, it was such a uniquely perverse view of freedom of the press (or lack thereof) that it quickly went viral, earning heaping helpings of mockery on Twitter and elsewhere online.
But no response was as devastatingly effective as the punch-back issued by the Frederick News-Post’s opinion page. In a scathing editorial titled “Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter” (read it online at tinyurl.com/pll7ca6), the paper invokes the councilman’s name 26 times (not including the headline) while using humor to deflate the pompous bully. The piece even slyly uses the first letter of each paragraph to spell out “Kirby Delauter.”
I was envious of the writing — and of the opportunity to skewer such bombast. Is there a Volusia or Flagler County official capable of providing such editorial fodder? We have our share of blowhards and brawlers, but Delauter has set the bar awfully high.
The episode has proved to be educational, at least to the person who needs the lesson the most. A thoroughly chastened Delauter on Wednesday apologized for his behavior toward the reporter and for his fractured civics, admitting he was wrong and acknowledging that “the (F)irst (A)mendment is alive and well in Frederick County.”
Unfortunately, there won’t be a similarly satisfying conclusion to the horrific violence that occurred that same day in Paris.
Of course, the radical Islamists who murdered 12 people at a French weekly newspaper were unrepentant to the end. Committing mayhem is a feature of their twisted ideology, not a bug. There always will be evil in this world.
But what of the dopes and dupes who kind of, sort of — if not outright — blamed the staff of Charlie Hebdo for the attack because it published satirical cartoons that lampooned Islam? Even those who prefaced their arguments with disclaimers that they didn’t condone the violence inevitably reached a “but …” equivocation that virtually invalidated the preceding clause. ………………….