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.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, greg smith, harassment, journalism, malheur county, oregon


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 22 Aug 2019 @ 11:48am

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2019 @ 7:58pm

      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.

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

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 22 Aug 2019 @ 12:08pm

    Going after the press with criminal charges is about the worst move a politician can make.

    And here I thought it was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2019 @ 12:28pm

    “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.

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

  • identicon
    Agammamon, 22 Aug 2019 @ 12:31pm

    . . . .they've been "forbidden" to use."

    I think that state harrassment law is going to get shut down right quick the first time anyone presses back against who has the authority to forbid someone from using a communication channel.

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

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 22 Aug 2019 @ 1:23pm

      Re:

      Nah, more likely when someone files charges against a political party for those annoying calls around election time, or against the police for "harassing" calls while investigating someone.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2019 @ 12:35pm

    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

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

  • identicon
    Dee Cider, 22 Aug 2019 @ 2:46pm

    Dear State Rep. Greg Smith,

    I do hereby forbid you to contact anyone using telephones or email addresses and publicly notify you of such in this publicly accessible forum.

    Don't make me report you the Malheur County Sheriff's Department.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2019 @ 3:11pm

    Is this guy a stand up comedian?

    Investigating possible criminal activity is harassing the potential criminals?

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Zof (profile), 22 Aug 2019 @ 10:46pm

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Agammamon, 22 Aug 2019 @ 11:38pm

      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'.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2019 @ 12:46am

      Re: Most Zofs Are Compromised Garbage These Days

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2019 @ 5:33am

      Re: Most Journalists Are Compromised Garbage These Days

      That childish nonsense probably just got the orange one reelected

      Did you have an election in your head?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2019 @ 5:33am

    Friday deep thoughts:

    What if the west would have heavily invested (for cheap labor) in Mexico instead of China?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2019 @ 5:35am

      Re: Friday deep thoughts:

      oops, wrong article.
      I meant to comment on the China free speech article...I'll go back to the basement now.

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

  • identicon
    Glenn, 23 Aug 2019 @ 6:13am

    Typical GOP response to the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and everything America is supposed to represent.

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

  • icon
    dsdasa (profile), 27 Aug 2019 @ 5:31am

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07S2ZZMG8

    YWECAN Car Cup Holder Mount for iPhone Xs/XS Max/X/8/7 Plus & 7"-10.5" Tablets, Universal Car Cradles Adjustable Gooseneck for Apple iPhone iPad Pro Air Mini, Samsung Galaxy Tab

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.