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.

Filed Under: free speech, intimidation, journalism, threats, water quality study, wisconsin


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2019 @ 3:55pm

    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”.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 12 Nov 2019 @ 4:44pm

    '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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2019 @ 9:56am

      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.

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

  • icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 12 Nov 2019 @ 5:22pm

    Anyway.. comprehension error #2.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2019 @ 11:43pm

    This reminds me of the whole impeachment charade. You know why that’s happening, right? The only hope of the deep state traitors to avoid going to prison is to replace the president and attorney general.

    Not going to happen.

    MAGA 2020

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 Nov 2019 @ 5:14am

    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.

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

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 13 Nov 2019 @ 5:23am

      Re:

      In cases like this, it's often that those in charge have a financial interest in the major corporation in the area that's causing the contamination. What do you wanna bet who gets blamed in the reports?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2019 @ 7:20am

      Re:

      That's actually somewhat true.

      Feeling powerful literally alters your brain chemistry so you can't feel empathy as much.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2019 @ 8:54am

      Lawyer talk [was Re: ]

      … 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….

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2019 @ 7:13am

    Anyway...

    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.)

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

    • icon
      btr1701 (profile), 13 Nov 2019 @ 11:24am

      Re: Anyway...

      You're right, but you make mistakes like that on Techdirt all the time.

      The grammar no-no that most annoys me here on TechDirt is the habitual starting of sentences with conjunctions (and, but, or). Those words should never be the first word in your sentence.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2019 @ 11:47am

        Re: Re: Anyway...

        But in the rules of formal, proper English starting a sentence with those words is allowed. For it to be acceptable the sentence must also be grammatically correct without the word on front.

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

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 13 Nov 2019 @ 12:29pm

        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?).

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


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