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Erie Reader rejects politician’s demand to retract op-ed

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  1. First Amendment

On behalf of The Erie Reader, the Reporters Committee’s local attorney in Pennsylvania is rejecting a U.S. congressman’s demand that the newspaper retract an opinion column highlighting the politician’s role in the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

In a July 25 letter to the campaign of Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), Local Legal Initiative Attorney Paula Knudsen Burke wrote that The Erie Reader will not comply with the congressman’s “baseless demand” to remove an op-ed from its website for “misinformation and falsities.” Nor will it issue an apology to Kelly or its readers.

The newspaper published the op-ed in question on July 14. Written by Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Wertz, who also is a contributing editor to the newspaper, the column criticizes efforts by Kelly and state Sen. Dan Laughlin to challenge the 2020 election results.

As Burke’s letter notes, the op-ed is clearly labeled with an “opinion” tag at the top of the post, and it is based on widely reported factual information found in legal filings and government proceedings, which are protected by the fair report privilege.

“While Rep. Kelly may not care for the criticism in the Op-Ed — which relates to a matter of utmost public interest and concern to Pennsylvanians — the First Amendment clearly protects it,” the letter states.