Kirby Delauter, ‘Charlie Hebdo,’ and the Limits of Our Bravery

Yesterday, the media had a good chuckle when Kirby Delauter, a Frederick County, Md., Council Member, told a journalist that she had no right to use his name in a story—even to say that he hadn't returned a request for comment—and then insinuated that he was going to sue her pants off for doing so without his permission. This little tantrum prompted many guffaws, and for good reason: as Eugene Volokh noted, "In our country, newspapers are actually allowed to write about elected officials (and others) without their permission. It’s an avantgarde experiment, to be sure, but we’ve had some success with it."

And, in solidarity with the threatened reporter, journalists and news outlets around the country bravely began using Kirby Delauter's name without his permission. The Frederick News Post published an editorial entitled "Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter," using his name 25 times in the body of their piece. Search Twitter to see a number of journos mockingly highlighting the dopey public official's mistaken belief that we are not allowed to blaspheme against him. NPR got in on the action, as did the AP.

This is great. This is how a free press reacts to being threatened by a brigand. With snark and disrespect and an adamant refusal to kowtow to his demands.

Today, the media was filled with sorrow when Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper, was attacked by armed gunmen who appear to have been upset by the fact that the newspaper was fond of publishing "blasphemous" cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. There has been much anger and much sadness expressed on social media and in news outlets around the world.

However, journalists around the world have not reacted to this barbarism as they reacted to Delauter's tantrum. The New York Daily News, for instance, ran a censored image of the provocative cover. The Telegraph ran a similarly blurred image before being shamed into showing the image. The New York Times does not include the offending images in their writeup. NPR's writeup similarly eschews showing them.

There are, it seems, limits to our bravery.