Popping off on Internet chat boards can get you in trouble. Particularly if you’re an unpopular newspaper writer in a small town and your unfriendly comments are directed at a member of the city council.
Just ask Dennis McCaslin.
The final act played out yesterday in a Greenwood, Ark., smalltown political drama we’d written about previously. A judge approved a plea bargain for a “harassing communications” charge brought against McCaslin, a part-time writer for the local newspaper, over comments he’d made on a Topix webpage toward Greenwood Alderman Lance Terry. Terry hadn’t been happy about McCaslin’s reporting on a disorderly conduct charge against Terry. McCaslin says Terry supporters mouthed off toward him and he mouthed off back (doing so under a not particularly protective Internet pseudonym.)
McCaslin agreed to pay a $350 fine and court costs, avoid the Terry clan and be good for six months. With no further happenings, the charge goes away.
This is me talking, not McCaslin: A conditional I’ll-fight-fire-with-fire comment is harassing communications? However bad the wine-fueled judgment that went into it, I think you could raise constitutional issues over criminalizing such speech. But you could spend a ton of attorney fees doing it and wind up worse off than a go-and-sin-no-more plea bargain. It’s a lesson for all, however you slice it.