It took the world for Kirby Delauter to admit he was wrong. Literally. Our online editorial from Tuesday, a tongue-in-cheek-serious piece that took Delauter to task for threatening to sue one of our reporters for using his name without authorization, hit a nerve. By the late evening, the editorial had gone global. We’ve printed it today for our readers who prefer print and missed it on The News-Post’s website.
More than 700,000 people came to our site to read it. Commentators weighed in from across the country. Through the Twitter hashtag #kirbydelauter, the editorial was shared across the globe. The response was immediate and vitriolic, and condemned Delauter for his behavior. The humiliation was global. Even the tea party, whose values Delauter claims, said the Republican councilman “is apparently unaware of the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment,” categorizing their report under “Abuse of Power.” The state’s most-respected conservative voice, RedMaryland.com, called Delauter “a clown.”
This was never a conservative versus liberal issue. It’s not even political. It’s not about a policy. For us, this was a defense of First Amendment rights and freedom of the press. It was about backing a reporter doing her job. When we repeated Delauter’s name in our editorial 28 times (29, if you count the acrostic), it was to inform Delauter and others like him of our duty as a community newspaper to report the news, even if we had a sense of humor about it.
We were bombarded with tweets, emails, calls and other comments via social media, nearly all of them congratulatory and applauding our stand. We’re deeply humbled by that response. We had no idea just how much the ideals of a free press still resonate here in America and overseas. Thank you to everyone who took the time to contact us. Your support was especially poignant following the death of 10 Charlie Hebdo journalists and two police officers killed Wednesday in a terrorist shooting at their Paris office. Je suis Charlie.
A chastened Delauter issued a statement Wednesday evening through Frederick County’s communications office retracting his position. We had every right to use his name, that press release said, continuing, “So yes, my statement to the Frederick News-Post regarding the use of my name was wrong and inappropriate.”
The councilman’s statement addressed his own abrasiveness at the keyboard: “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.”
Two hours later, Delauter took to his Facebook page to apologize to Bethany Rodgers, the News-Post reporter he’d berated then threatened to sue because she had used his name without authorization in a story on Jan. 3 about the allocation of county parking spaces, of all things. We appreciate Delauter’s apology to Rodgers because what he said about her in front of a wide audience of Facebook followers was especially unpleasant. Rather than retread what his post said here, you can read it yourself on our website, www.FrederickNewsPost.com. Rodgers, to her credit, accepted his apology.
We welcome Delauter’s self-reflection and hope it broadens out to include his attitude to members of the community he’s criticized before. There are words and there are deeds, and the proverb advises us to look to the latter, not the former when we judge a person’s character. We’re open to giving Delauter a chance to prove through his actions that he can unite rather than divide the community, and get moving on the next critical four years for our county.
It was his emails, sent to local municipal officials, that Rodgers wrote about in an Oct. 29 story, “Disputes strain relationships between Delauter, town officials.” Delauter called that a “hit piece” in his Facebook posting, claiming Rodgers had intentionally misrepresented and mistreated him. It was that story that led to his Facebook post. Compare that attention with the global humiliation of this past week. At least with the press, we offer multiple opportunities to respond. There’s a lesson here.
Delauter’s view has always been welcome on these pages. He’s written letters to us more than 10 times on various topics in the past couple of years and been printed. If the councilman feels misrepresented, he’s always had a forum to challenge us in the very paper reporting on him.
That door is, and will always, be open.