State Rep Tries To Bring Criminal Harassment Charges Against Journalists For Being Journalists

from the lose-my-number(s) dept

In a small county in Oregon, free speech — specifically the act of journalism — is being threatened. The Malheur Enterprise, a weekly newspaper, has been investigating a state lawmaker’s ties to business deals and contracts being executed in the county. Doing what journalists do, the paper’s reporters have been trying to get answers or statements from people working with State Rep. Greg Smith, whose business dealings are currently under the small paper’s microscope.

No one seems to want to talk to the paper, but good journalists are persistent and willing to talk to anyone who might give them a new lead or verify findings. This is how journalism works. Rep. Greg Smith thinks journalism is a criminal act.

The newspaper broke the news Monday morning after learning that Malheur County’s legal counsel had asked the sheriff to investigate whether reporters’ persistent attempts to contact officials, sometimes after business hours or using their personal email accounts, amounted to a violation of the law.

State Rep. Greg Smith, the Republican lawmaker at the center of the journalists’ investigation and who also serves as director of Malheur County Economic Development on a contract basis, complained to the newspaper: “It is not appropriate that you are sending emails to employees using their personal email accounts on the weekends,” and asked “to not have our employees contacted outside of their work place,” the paper reported.

Smith has taken his “evidence” to local law enforcement. Apparently, Smith believes email from journalists to people’s personal email addresses (“at all times!”) is a form of harassment. The state statute is written broadly enough that someone — say, State Rep. Greg Smith — might feel like they’ve got an open-and-shut case. The state’s harassment law says a crime is committed if anyone “intentionally harasses or annoys another person” via lines of communication (phones, email addresses) they’ve been “forbidden” to use.

That explains Smith’s statement to the newspaper. He did the forbidding. Now he’s just cashing in his criminal charge chips. The next step is to get law enforcement on board. Achievement unlocked.

After initial publication of this report online, Rich Harriman, a commander in the sheriff’s office, posted a personal Facebook comment justifying action by police.

“Asking to explore if criminal activity is afoot is NOT suppressing the press,” Harriman wrote. “If they did something wrong, it keeps them from crossing that line again. Seems like this paper and its groupies might be desperate for a sexy story.”

So much for objectivity. The message has been sent: these government employees — one a law enforcement official — want nosy journalists to mind their own business. Any official can claim a phone line is off limits to get the ball rolling on bogus, First Amendment-damaging charges. The problem with Rep. Smith doing it is he already gave constituents permission to call him anytime.

Smith uses two emails in his conduct of county business. At a government meeting last fall, he gave the public what he described as his “personal” cell phone number He told the audience: “At any time that anyone has any questions or concerns, please call me directly.” He said he was available “24/7.”

He has listed that number on press releases from Malheur County and in his role as a state legislator.

I guess this line is only open to non-journalists. The Malheur Enterprise has plenty of “questions and concerns.” Rep. Smith has no desire to address them. The best way to shut people up is to threaten their freedom.

Fortunately, Smith doesn’t have the support of everyone in the Sheriff’s office. This bullshit investigation appears to have reached the end of the line.

Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe said Wednesday an inquiry determined no laws had been broken.

“As an elected sheriff, we will always respect the constitutional rights of anybody and everybody. We do believe in freedom of the press and free speech that we believe are our rights given by the Constitution of the United States,” Wolfe said.

Sheriff Wolfe might want to have a word with Commander Harriman and remind him he speaks for the office when he pipes up on Facebook with ill-advised comments that display his ignorance of the First Amendment and its protections.

If Rep. Smith doesn’t like being dogged by journalists, he’s in the wrong business. Being a public servant — even part-time — means being annoyed by the public, journalists included, on a regular basis. Hopefully, his career as a public servant is just about over. Going after the press with criminal charges is about the worst move a politician can make.

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Comments on “State Rep Tries To Bring Criminal Harassment Charges Against Journalists For Being Journalists”

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23 Comments
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I'm speaking for them, so listen, but I didn't get permission.

"The state’s harassment law says a crime is committed if anyone "intentionally harasses or annoys another person" via lines of communication (phones, email addresses) they’ve been "forbidden" to use."

My reading of the article says that State Rep. Greg Smith was the one asking the paper not to contact employees on their personal email accounts. I did not see anything about individual employees asking the paper to not contact them on their personal email accounts. Does State Rep. Greg Smith think he can speak for and forbid the paper from contacting employees on their personal email accounts? If I was an employee, I might have strong objections to having State Rep. Greg Smith speaking on my behalf without my express permission.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I'm speaking for them, so listen, but I didn't get permissio

I used to work for a law enforcement agency in Oregon. The practice regarding the law covering harassment was that the party being harassed had to issue notice to the harasser that they weren’t to contact them anymore. Smith can’t speak on behalf of the employees anymore than you could tell a solicitor that they weren’t welcome at a neighbor’s house. The exception would be that a parent or guardian could speak for their minor children.

Anonymous Coward says:

“It is not appropriate that you are sending emails to employees using their personal email accounts on the weekends,” and asked “to not have our employees contacted outside of their work place,” the paper reported.

  1. Do police contact people through personal email accounts on weekend and/or do they contact people outside their workplaces? If yes, then it should be acceptable for everyone else to do it.

  2. Have your staff – or people contracted by your staff – ever used spam mailing lists to contact people through their personal email accounts or contacted them outside their work place? If yes, the it should be acceptable for people to do it to them.

Don’t want me to call you at home, don’t robocall me at home.

Anonymous Coward says:

Appropriate

… And it’s far less appropriate for telemarketers to bug me at home during my personal time…
And it’s kind of apples and oranges, because it’s also not appropriate for those same telemarketers to call me while I’m at work…

… there’s nothing stopping you from ignoring those phone calls and emails… like the rest of us common folk :p

Zof (profile) says:

Most Journalists Are Compromised Garbage These Days

Most tech journalists are taking either Google or Apple money, or both.

Most "entertainment" journalists are taking the kind of money that gets Epstein 10th page coverage.

Most "TV" journalists are pretending America cares about Joe Biden, because that’s who the rich people want.

And America is still getting over figuring out 99 percent of their media outright and openly participated in a fake Russia hoax for two years, whether the Media likes it or not, people noticed. That childish nonsense probably just got the orange one reelected, and Google totally deserves it for being so incredibly stupid.

Agammamon says:

Re: Most Journalists Are Compromised Garbage These Days

Most tech journalists are taking either Google or Apple money, or both.

OK, well – you lost the plot their. Apple certainly isn’t buying journalists. I don’t even freaking know why you would think they were – other than ‘kkkorporations ‘r’ bad, m’kay’.

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