Attorney General Threatens To Prosecute Reporters For Doing Their Job

from the with-great-power-comes-great-ridiculousness dept

Following a trail blazed by Maryland councilman Kirby Delauter, a Virgin Islands Attorney General is making an ass of herself by threatening journalists for having the audacity to do their job. Delauter infamously publicly attacked a reporter for daring to publish his name in her paper, apparently unaware that this sort of thing happens to public officials roughly all the damn time. The ensuing internet maelstrom forced a retraction and apology from Delauter.

The Virgin Islands Daily News is still waiting for an apology from acting Attorney General Terri Griffiths for this wholly inappropriate response to acts of journalism. [via Jim Romenesko]
Acting Attorney General Terri Griffiths told executives of The Virgin Islands Daily News on Thursday morning that she will prosecute the newspaper on criminal charges because of its telephone calls to obtain comment and information from her.

"I'll be filing criminal charges against you," Griffiths said as she abruptly left a meeting at The Daily News' offices on St. Thomas.
She also claimed a quote appearing in one of the paper's stories was "fabricated." This is the quote:
"I will not comment on the Parole Board hearings."
This quote seems like something an attorney general would be very likely to say. In fact, the refusal to comment has long been a hallmark of law enforcement-press relations. Not commenting is the national pastime of law enforcers, who are often the first party to issue a solid "no comment" after controversial incidents. But Griffith claims this completely innocuous and completely boring quote was fabricated. The Daily News found otherwise.
The Daily News has reviewed Griffiths' allegations that a quote attributed to her had been fabricated and stands by its published report, Robbins said.

"We take any report of inaccuracy very seriously, and we publish a clarification or correction if an error appears in print," Robbins said. "In this case, we found that the reporter was accurate."
But Griffiths is more upset that Daily News reporters are calling her on her cell phone to obtain additional "no comments" on various stories involving her office. This would almost be a legitimate complaint (provided you ignore the ensuing "I'll put you in jail" threat that accompanied it), if it weren't for the fact that Griffiths herself provided the cell phone number to the paper.
Griffiths spoke at length about her desire not to be called on the cell phone or after hours, and she termed the calls "telephone harassment."

Daily News reporters have called Griffiths on her cell when unable to reach her on her office phone. The cell number they used is the one she provided to the newspaper.

The meeting broke down when Robbins asked Griffiths to answer specific questions about her grievances.

Griffiths objected to that and said she did not want to be "blindsided."

"I don't want to talk to your reporters ever. There will be no communication between me and The Daily News ever again," she said.

She asked Robbins whether he would instruct reporters not to call her on the cell phone.

Robbins said, "No."

Griffiths then left the meeting, announcing, "Then I am going to file criminal charges against you."
Welcome to the life of a public figure, Ms. Griffiths. Reporters are going to call you when your input is needed or desired. It won't always be during business hours, especially if your office can't provide "I will not comment" (non)comments in your absence. Certainly, an excessive amount of calls after "business hours" (whatever that means to powerful law enforcement figures/journalists -- I would imagine those timetables have significant differences) would be irritating, but it doesn't rise to the level of harassment.

And Griffiths' comment about resenting being "blindsided" strongly suggests she'd rather not deal with this part of the job at all. Any question can be deferred to a later time if the answer isn't immediately apparent, but the pattern of calls Griffiths calls "harassment" suggests she's not exactly forthcoming or timely in her responses.

Harassment may be a crime, but journalism isn't. If Griffiths would rather not answer questions, she can place that burden on her staff. Or she can communicate only through official statements and press releases. Or she can give the newspaper guidance on what times are acceptable to call. But what she definitely can't do -- or at least shouldn't -- is abuse the power of her position to mute pesky guardians of public accountability.

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  • icon
    Anon E. Mous (profile), 25 Mar 2015 @ 2:29am

    When you are a public official and your position of the office you hold is the top official for that department, then you should bloody well assume that your are speaking on behalf of that office and it's policies.

    The mere fact that a reporter has questions pertaining to legal matters that may be of interest to the public and asks for comment is justified.

    The fact that she provided her cell number and her office numbers to the media is her own problem, so don't act like a child when the media calls to ask you something that you don't want to answer.

    The fact she is having a temper tantrum because she doesn't want to answer some question because she fells she will get ambushed is all part and parcel of life in politics, no one gets an easy ride.

    If she didn't want to answer, why not tell them to contact the media spokesperson for her office (if they have one ) or have her office address it in a press release, but to threaten harassment charges cause she doesn't want to answer on behalf of her office since she is the top dog their so to speak is a joke.

    Obviously she isn't very familiar with abuse of power that some politicians get in trouble for , which I think is where she is headed here. If she can not handle the heat then go get a job doing something else where your not in charge and your not the person who has to answer for your department.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    VPJ, 25 Mar 2015 @ 2:35am

    Did techdirt call Ms Griffiths to get her side of the story prior to publishing?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 25 Mar 2015 @ 2:41am

      Re:

      Why go through the effort, just pick up a dead phone and listen to it for a bit, and you'd get the same response, given both would tell you nothing(though a dead phone is a little less likely to bluster and make ridiculous threats).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2015 @ 4:10am

    I will not comment on this.

    I'll also be suing Techdirt for providing me the means to comment on this news.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2015 @ 4:17am

    Then don't run for a public position much less the HEAD of something...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2015 @ 5:16am

    Well calling her a bitch would be an insult to respectable bitches everywhere. That is my opinion and my right to express it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    leehb9 (profile), 25 Mar 2015 @ 6:09am

    Hey Techdirt...

    Give us her phone number; we'll all call her!
    :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 25 Mar 2015 @ 6:25am

    Their Job

    Isn't the job of the reporters to report what the government tells them to report? Isn't that the purpose of government briefings?

    Why would journalists be prosecuted for doing that? It seems that they would be prosecuted for not doing 'their job'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Righteous Indignation, 25 Mar 2015 @ 7:50am

    Her phone number is public information

    Terri Griffiths, ESQ
    Acting Attorney General
    Department of Justice
    Office of the Attorney General
    34-38 Kronprindsens Gade
    GERS Building, 2nd Floor
    St. Thomas, Virgin Islands 00802
    (340) 774-5666 Ext. 107

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tjat Guy, 25 Mar 2015 @ 8:20am

    Just Like Rob Ford

    I lived in Toronto and followed the Rob Ford saga with the Toronto Star. He had a tiff with the publication since they reported a physics altercation between him and a high school football player he was a coach for. It never happened, even the football player kid said the Star was wrong. Ford asked for an apology and they didn't give one. So he black balled them and only met and responded to all the other publications. The Star went out of their way to find SOMETHING of a smoking gun then the crack pipe issue showed up. There are a number of city councillors who quickly shut up and stayed in the shadows to avoid the spotlight because they have just as bad or worse habits they didn't want a spotlight on. Ie, the new mayor for one. Ford mow has a fight for his life with cancer, so its immoral to beat on him now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2015 @ 8:35am

    Dear Ms Terri Griffiths, ESQ...

    I write to you to let you know that there are quite a number of ways to block calls from people who annoy you. I refer you to this Wiki-how article...

    http://www.wikihow.com/Block-a-Phone-Number

    Lastly, may I recommend asking your phone service provider to assign you a different number? I realize that letting all your friends and coworkers know you have a different number may be bothersome, but you seem excessively agitated about the calls you are receiving to your current number. You might even consider relegating your current phone to be a "work cell phone", and simply not answer it after hours, or when you see the caller is not a co-worker.

    Sincerely,

    Internet Bystander

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 25 Mar 2015 @ 10:21am

    The queen sounds upset she isn't getting her way

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 25 Mar 2015 @ 10:39am

    Well, that changes the reporting.

    "VIDN reporting on the recent case. The AG hasn't reach out with a comment, so we can only assume {insert bad thing here}. We'll update you as more information becomes available".

    Then just not accept her calls.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Zonker, 25 Mar 2015 @ 11:36am

    I heard that if you say Kirby Delauter's name in front of a mirror three times, a random public official will appear and threaten a reporter for doing their job.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2015 @ 12:33pm

    Her period starts in two days. Ask her again in three.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 25 Mar 2015 @ 2:02pm

      Plenty of women in administrative and executive positions are able to do their jobs even with PMS

      Even if it means in extreme cases that they recognize and go manage it as if it were any other severe medical condition (migraines are managed similarly).

      So I'd think Griffiths would be able to conduct herself appropriately, despite personal circumstances.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2015 @ 11:41pm

        Re: Plenty of women in administrative and executive positions are able to do their jobs even with PMS

        I grant you that, and agree. However, I was married to a woman that turned into a fire breathing dragon two days prior to onset of menses and who thought she was being perfectly rational while being anything but. YMMV.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 26 Mar 2015 @ 7:56am

          Re: Re: Plenty of women in administrative and executive positions are able to do their jobs even with PMS

          Your wife's unfortunate experience is not representative of the majority of women. Your extrapolation is no different than saying that all men are a hair-trigger away from violent rage because you had a friend with poor impulse control.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 29 Mar 2015 @ 12:51pm

          Hence the medical caveat.

          Plenty of people also are capable of serving with medical conditions that make them temporarily irrational rather than incapacitating them. They recognize early symptoms and take themselves off duty.

          I'm not sure your ex would be self aware enough to qualify, but plenty enough are.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 25 Mar 2015 @ 5:41pm

    Huh, isn't her job to do that whole truth, justice, American way thing?
    If she feels unable to handle the stress of being in this position, perhaps she would be better suited to find other employment.

    This behavior is unacceptable, and if she wants to remove any public oversight over what she is doing (and reporters covering news is public oversight) perhaps her office should be investigated.

    In fact this should be the response to any appointed/elected offical who responds in this manner. They are accountable to the public they represent, and if they are unwilling to be accountable... where there is smoke there is fire.

    I'm loathe to suggest more laws, because they will always add more loopholes, but it is time this stop being acceptable and those unfit to hold positions be removed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2015 @ 10:56pm

    Or she could get a new cellphone number. Honestly, who gives out their personal cellphone number to newspapers? Talk about learning life lessons the hard way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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