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Durkin litigation threat has unintended outcome

Thursday, Dec 7, 2017

* From one of Dan Proft’s papers

A lawyer for House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) has threatened Local Government Information Services, which owns this publication, via two cease and desist letters after reporters asked questions about the legislator.

Professor Jane E. Kirtley, the Silha professor of media ethics and law at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, said such tactics are not uncommon and are aimed at suppressing unwanted media attention.

“I am very troubled when public officials – who know that they would have to prove ‘actual malice’ (knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth) to prevail – attempt to dissuade journalists from following legitimate news stories by threatening them with libel suits,” Kirtley said. “It’s a technique used to intimidate and as a form of damage control.”

While Kirtley said it is possible to defame a party by merely asking a question, the burden of proof is very high and in such cases cease and desist letters are almost always scare tactics meant to intimidate reporters into halting inquiries.

“It is virtually impossible in the U.S. to get an injunction against a libelous publication, it is not at all unusual for potential plaintiffs to ask their lawyers to send threatening letters to discourage journalists from pursuing a story,” Kirtley said.

* One of the questions

DuPage County-based trial attorney Patrick Walsh sent the first of the two cease and desist letters after Prairie State Wire reached out to legislators regarding rumors that Durkin earlier this year pursued a capital bill as part of a fundraising strategy.

A freelance reporter for Prairie State Wire sent emails to several state legislators asking them a series of questions regarding Durkin’s leadership, including the following question:

    “What do you make of the accusation that Durkin tried to trade political clout for campaign funding?”

The inquiry was prompted due to previously unreported, anonymous rumors in the state Capitol that Durkin may have attempted to trade influence over a capital projects funding bill for campaign funds.

* The other question

The second cease and desist letter was sent on Nov. 30 after a West Cook News freelance reporter asked Durkin’s communications staff to respond to allegations that Durkin had tried to set up a meeting between the owner of a proposed Cook County adult night club and the mayor of Broadview.

So, essentially what happened here is the two cease and desist letters allowed the paper to publish the rumors.

Zing.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

15 Comments »
  1. - Juvenal - Thursday, Dec 7, 17 @ 10:51 am:

    Who is advising Durkin’s campaign, Scott Drury or Ken Dunkin? We seem to have a bit of both going on here.


  2. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Dec 7, 17 @ 10:55 am:

    Someone might want to send Professor Jane E. Kirtley, the Silha professor of media ethics and law at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, a copy of one of Proft’s publications.

    I’d be interested in reading what the Silha professor of media ethics and law at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota has to say about those publications, their ethics and tactics.


  3. - anonymous - Thursday, Dec 7, 17 @ 10:58 am:

    I don’t get it. How do terms like “journalists” and “legitimate news stories” get tied in with Dan Proft publications?


  4. - m - Thursday, Dec 7, 17 @ 11:02 am:

    Is there any data at all on the read rates for the proft publications and websites? Just curious. Is anyone reading other than the pols that are covered in the stories?


  5. - Dan Hampton - Thursday, Dec 7, 17 @ 11:12 am:

    If the Minnesota law professor knew what a Dan Proft newspaper consisted of, she would not publish her comments.


  6. - Skeptic - Thursday, Dec 7, 17 @ 11:12 am:

    “So, essentially what happened here is the two cease and desist letters allowed the paper to publish the rumors.” Isn’t that called “The Streisand Effect?”


  7. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Dec 7, 17 @ 11:12 am:

    Vertical integration of these newspapers allows the opportunity to keep things going by inserting themselves in things where the subject can make the “news outlet” the subject, then “report” what the subject “objects to”… continuing again the needed and repeated allegations “fresh”.

    The obvious mistake now, seeing the double-dip topic on a single target allows more fodder for that integration.

    I’ve felt for a long time that engaging the Rauner/IPI/Proft vertical integration on its integrity was the weakest angle, as then those attacked use that victimhood to propel these narratives.

    Durkin will right this ship, litigation won’t help in that “righting”


  8. - DuPage Saint - Thursday, Dec 7, 17 @ 11:18 am:

    Wonder if Walsh is related to Walsh Construction. I believe they have a judge on the bench in DuPage. Anyway dumb idea to send letter.
    From Forbes:
    ere are some of the entities receiving the large state payments in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016:

    Road contractors and construction companies ($1.4 billion) – 45 companies received more than $1 million. Here’s the top five: Plote Construction Inc. ($300.4 million); Lorig Construction Company ($225.4 million); Walsh Construction Co. ($151.9 million);


  9. - Chris P. Bacon - Thursday, Dec 7, 17 @ 11:24 am:

    A blind man can see Durkin is obviously very worried about something. Given the potential ramifications, he should be.


  10. - Sigh - Thursday, Dec 7, 17 @ 11:58 am:

    Maybe we should pass a new ethics law for journalists? I’ll volunteer my time to write it, so no taxpayer money is used. Because you know bc some “news outlets” and “watch dogs” will say that they are trying to be silenced. But this is how they operate: They submit FOIAs to get all communication between Party A and Party B and the result is Party A turning over Party B’s original inquiry about a “rumor”… then Party B (or a watch dog) then writes an article on the “rumor” bc the FOIA now serves as “the actual facts”….but the actual fact was just a rumor. I wonder how much all those FOIAs cost taxpayers?


  11. - Barringtonn - Thursday, Dec 7, 17 @ 12:20 pm:

    Broadview? Really? Not sure they would even let in a republican there let alone listen to one.


  12. - Colin O'Scopey - Thursday, Dec 7, 17 @ 1:17 pm:

    Dan Proft gives new meaning to the old saying:

    “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the cartridge”.


  13. - Colin O'Scopey - Thursday, Dec 7, 17 @ 1:18 pm:

    ==Wonder if Walsh is related to Walsh Construction.==

    No relation.


  14. - walker - Thursday, Dec 7, 17 @ 3:52 pm:

    Did paid campaign opposition researchers recently become “journalists?”


  15. - wordslinger - Thursday, Dec 7, 17 @ 5:12 pm:

    Did Durkin really think the scary-lawyer-letters would work? It’s on him now to follow-through in court.

    My guess is Proft’s pubs are incorporated with book assets valued like the 7/11 leave-a-penny-take-a-penny cup, so I doubt any libel liability scares him too much, either.

    If he could get to him personally, that’s a different story.


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