* 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.