Wisconsin County Briefly Considers (Then Drops) Resolution To Threaten Journalists With Prosecution For Not Reprinting Entirety Of Gov't Report

from the say-what-now? dept

It’s kind of stunning how frequently we see elected officials proposing things that are so blatantly unconstitutional that you wonder how they were proposed in the first place. Take, for example, a situation in southwest Wisconsin. Last week it was reported that the Lafayette County’s board would be considering a hilariously overbroad resolution that threatened to prosecute journalists if they did not report on the local “Review Board of the Water Quality Study.” The proposed resolution did not mince words, noting that it was put in place because of worries about “slander”:

WHEREAS, in the past, Southwest Wisconsin has been falsely slandered by the press due to a county board leak of confidential information of the collaborative three county water study the following protocols must be followed:

So, right from the start this is problematic. Claiming that the press “slandered” you already suggests a bad outlook. Second, any demand for “protocols” that “must be followed” for journalists is inherently a violation of the 1st Amendment that anyone — even a lowly county board member — should recognize. Among the protocols are the insane requirement that any reporting on the report must simply repost the entire press release crafted by the Review Board, and they are not allowed to even quote it.

An appropriate statement will be crafted by the Review Board. It will be crafted in a press release and shared with the press with this specific statement included at the top: “Please do not alter, edit, cut or adjust this press release in anyway. Please print the content provided in full.” Under no circumstances is the media allowed to glean information and selectively report it in order to interpret the results for their own means.

Yeah, so beyond the mixing up of “any way” and “anyway”, telling journalists that they’re not allowed to “glean information” or report on it how they want is kind of insane. It also undermines the “Please” at the beginning of the “specific statement included at the top” which makes it sound like a request. Oh, also undermining the “please” is the sentence after the part quoted above:

Violators will be prosecuted.

FOR WHAT?!? Reporting? Who could have possibly thought this was a good idea?

Either way, within hours of this getting some press attention (and widespread criticism) the board admitted that the proposed resolution was dropped from consideration:

Lafayette County Corporation Counsel Nathan Russell confirmed Friday the committee would no longer be considering the resolution. When asked why the proposal was removed from the agenda, Russell said the resolution was not necessary.

“Not necessary” is a funny way of saying “blatantly unconstitutional” but, hey, at least the end result was correct.

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Comments on “Wisconsin County Briefly Considers (Then Drops) Resolution To Threaten Journalists With Prosecution For Not Reprinting Entirety Of Gov't Report”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Multiple Updates

… the board admitted that the proposed resolution was dropped from consideration

That link, though, goes to a story “Published: Friday, November 8, 2019, 8:00pm”. (“Lafayette County Board’s Resolution Warning Media About Water Quality Coverage Dropped”, by Hope Kirwan, Wisconsin Public Radio).

Yesterday, however, Associated Press reported “Meeting on proposal to prosecute journalists back on”.

The resolution remained on the committee’s Tuesday agenda as of Monday evening.

Today, though, Associated Press followed up on yesterday’s report with “Free speech rights a concern in Wisconsin water resolution

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the committee removed that from the resolution Tuesday.

So, all in all, the story looks a little bit more complicated than just simply dropped “within hours of this getting some press attention”.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Multiple Updates

The fact that they kept it on the agenda until the day it was to be discussed would seem to suggest that they really wanted to pass it, and it was only the attention and pressure that forced them to drop it.

Given that I’d say it’s would not be unreasonable to expect them to try to slip it through in the future, and they should be carefully watched for any such attempt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Multiple Updates

…they kept it on the agenda until the day it was to be discussed…

Following the embedded link in today’s AP story, which points to today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinal story by Patrick Marley, “After dropping plans to prosecute reporters, Wisconsin county threatens officials who speak about water issues without permission”—

A county committee rewrote the resolution Tuesday and dropped the idea of prosecuting reporters.

The resolution wasn’t just on the agenda, and then the whole resolution dropped. Instead, the resolution was rewritten, and ended up passing 5-2, although with the most controversial provision dropped out of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 [Dropped Subject]

After dropping plans to prosecute reporters, Wisconsin county threatens officials who speak about water issues without permission

It looks like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel re-uses urls for updated stories. So the hyperlink up above there no longer points to a story with that particular headline. Instead, the hyperlink now points to the latest version.

Here, fwiw, is a copy of a version of the older story, with the older headline, via MSN: “After dropping plans to prosecute reporters, Wisconsin county threatens officials who speak about water issues without permission”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Multiple Updates

… they should be carefully watched…

WKOW channel 27 reported this afternoon that the amended resolution, which passed out of committee on a 5-2 vote this morning, goes to the full Lafayette County Board of Supervisors this evening.

The resolution goes before the full board at 7:15 p.m. this evening. (Download Agenda)

The actual linked agenda has written, up at top right:

Approximately 7:30 p.m.

Either way, I haven’t yet seen any reporting on events at this evening’s full board meeting.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Multiple Updates

… expect them to try to slip it through in the future…

After criticism, Wisconsin county shelves plan to prosecute journalists and officials who speak about water issues without permission”, by Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 12, 2019 (updated 9:52 p.m. CT)

Tuesday night, Supervisor Gerald Heimann offered an amendment that softened the resolution again. . . .

The board adopted that amendment 12-2 and then voted 13-1 to put off the resolution. Supervisors left open the possibility a committee could revisit the issue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Multiple Updates

Tuesday night, Supervisor Gerald Heimann offered an amendment…

Chris Rickert’s story a couple of hours ago in the Wisconsin State Journal, “Lafayette County officials table resolution to restrict release of water quality information” has both the actual text of the resolution which was passed out of this morning’s committee meeting and considered at Tuesday night’s full board meeting, as well as the actual wording of the further amendment to that which passed Tuesday night — before the whole resolution was tabled.

(Go to linked Wisconsin State Journal story for Tuesday night amendment wording. Not going to bother quoting it here.)

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Con... sti... tution? Never heard of it.'

It’s one thing for a politician to propose a rule/law that skirts the constitution and might violate it, but something like this is so blatantly a violation either they have literally never heard of that little piece of paper, or they consider it entirely optional.

In either case might be a good idea to replace them as soon as possible with people who actually do know and respect the document and the limitations on the government it lays out.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 'Con... sti... tution? Never heard of it.'

… something like this is so blatantly a violation…

This morning’s Associated Press story, “Wisconsin board backs away from free speech restrictions” calls a little bit of nationwide attention to—

The Journal Sentinel says county board Chairman Jack Sauer threatened to throw out critical members of the public at the meeting and accused attendees of being Democrats.

That embedded Milwaukee Journal Sentinel link (which now points to a version of the Patrick Marley story “Updated 7:23 a.m. CT Nov. 13, 2019”), further elaborates—

The meeting was marked by confusion and sharp words, with Board Chairman Jack Sauer threatening to throw out critical members of the public, complaining about Facebook posts and accusing attendees of being Democrats.

"I’m tired of your crap at these meetings," Sauer told one attendee.

One possibly might read all this to indicate that Lafayette County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sauer feels confident and secure enough in his re-election chances, that he’s going to expend some of his political capital…

          … in exchange for some nationwide press attention.

Is that a cynical view? The Associated Press doesn’t usually pick up stories covering generic Tuesday night county board of supervisors meetings. Even when they talk about local or three-(rural)-county-wide water contamination.

Maybe it’s just an era of Trumpism.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Power causes a form of brain damage #9809328

Thank the FSM that their lawyer had the balls to explain to them that they shot themselves in the foot & were preparing to shoot the other foot by pursuing it.

For them to be this mad really sort of draws attention to them & should get people very curious what the hell these people are doing that they need to try to hide things from them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Lawyer talk [was ]

… their lawyer had the balls to explain to them…

According to Kriss Marion, who is a member of the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors, speaking Wednesday (Nov 13, 2019) in a 12-minute radio interview with WORT 88.9FM, she herself did not directly speak to the county’s attorney Nathan Russell. She said, at about the 9:40 timemark:

I am not allowed to talk to Nathan Russell. The county chair has a policy that county supervisors cannot independently reach out to corporation counsel.

Earlier in that interview, starting about the 6:50 timemark, she discusses events at the Tuesday morning committee meeting:

The county chair, who was at the meeting, said that a lawyer had been consulted. And, in fact, the resolution said that there was a legal note, that it was within county authority.

(Emphasis on “a”, that is, from slightly earlier context, some other attorney who was not corporation counsel Nathan Russell.) (This had also been reported earlier by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and it’s included in their latest story updated 8:29 a.m. CT Nov. 14, 2019.)

At about the 7:40 timemark, the WORT radio interviewer narrates:

It seems as though county chairman Jack Sauer eventually gave the rest of the supervisors the name of the attorney that approved this.

[7:55 timemark]

That would have been Andrew Phillips of the Milwaukee law firm von Briesen & Roper, which performs work for local governments….

Anonymous Coward says:


Yeah, so beyond the mixing up of "any way" and "anyway"

Really? You’re right, but you make mistakes like that on Techdirt all the time. For example, using "takedown" (noun/adjective) when "take down" (verb) is meant. (Similar phrases such as "look up" and "check out" all work the same way. Hyphenation is an acceptable alternative for the one-word versions.)

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Anyway...

Those words should never be the first word in your sentence.

That sounds like one of those rules that really has no meaningful basis and is just a rule because someone decided it should be that way. Or maybe it’s a rule improperly imported from Latin, such as the injunction against ending a sentence with a preposition (see what I did there?).

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