Following a trail blazed by Maryland councilman Kirby Delauter, a Virgin Islands Attorney General is making an ass of herself by threatening journalists for having the audacity to do their job. Delauter infamously publicly attacked a reporter for daring to publish his name in her paper, apparently unaware that this sort of thing happens to public officials roughly all the damn time. The ensuing internet maelstrom forced a retraction and apology from Delauter.

The Virgin Islands Daily News is still waiting for an apology from acting Attorney General Terri Griffiths for this wholly inappropriate response to acts of journalism. [via Jim Romenesko]

Acting Attorney General Terri Griffiths told executives of The Virgin Islands Daily News on Thursday morning that she will prosecute the newspaper on criminal charges because of its telephone calls to obtain comment and information from her.

“I’ll be filing criminal charges against you,” Griffiths said as she abruptly left a meeting at The Daily News’ offices on St. Thomas.

She also claimed a quote appearing in one of the paper’s stories was “fabricated.” This is the quote:

“I will not comment on the Parole Board hearings.”

This quote seems like something an attorney general would be very likely to say. In fact, the refusal to comment has long been a hallmark of law enforcement-press relations. Not commenting is the national pastime of law enforcers, who are often the first party to issue a solid “no comment” after controversial incidents. But Griffith claims this completely innocuous and completely boring quote was fabricated. The Daily News found otherwise.

The Daily News has reviewed Griffiths’ allegations that a quote attributed to her had been fabricated and stands by its published report, Robbins said.

“We take any report of inaccuracy very seriously, and we publish a clarification or correction if an error appears in print,” Robbins said. “In this case, we found that the reporter was accurate.”

But Griffiths is more upset that Daily News reporters are calling her on her cell phone to obtain additional “no comments” on various stories involving her office. This would almost be a legitimate complaint (provided you ignore the ensuing “I’ll put you in jail” threat that accompanied it), if it weren’t for the fact that Griffiths herself provided the cell phone number to the paper.

Griffiths spoke at length about her desire not to be called on the cell phone or after hours, and she termed the calls “telephone harassment.”

Daily News reporters have called Griffiths on her cell when unable to reach her on her office phone. The cell number they used is the one she provided to the newspaper.

The meeting broke down when Robbins asked Griffiths to answer specific questions about her grievances.

Griffiths objected to that and said she did not want to be “blindsided.”

“I don’t want to talk to your reporters ever. There will be no communication between me and The Daily News ever again,” she said.

She asked Robbins whether he would instruct reporters not to call her on the cell phone.

Robbins said, “No.”

Griffiths then left the meeting, announcing, “Then I am going to file criminal charges against you.”

Welcome to the life of a public figure, Ms. Griffiths. Reporters are going to call you when your input is needed or desired. It won’t always be during business hours, especially if your office can’t provide “I will not comment” (non)comments in your absence. Certainly, an excessive amount of calls after “business hours” (whatever that means to powerful law enforcement figures/journalists — I would imagine those timetables have significant differences) would be irritating, but it doesn’t rise to the level of harassment.

And Griffiths’ comment about resenting being “blindsided” strongly suggests she’d rather not deal with this part of the job at all. Any question can be deferred to a later time if the answer isn’t immediately apparent, but the pattern of calls Griffiths calls “harassment” suggests she’s not exactly forthcoming or timely in her responses.

Harassment may be a crime, but journalism isn’t. If Griffiths would rather not answer questions, she can place that burden on her staff. Or she can communicate only through official statements and press releases. Or she can give the newspaper guidance on what times are acceptable to call. But what she definitely can’t do — or at least shouldn’t — is abuse the power of her position to mute pesky guardians of public accountability.


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