Lori Kilchermann Is A Yellow Journalist

There are two ways to define "yellow journalist." You could define it traditionally, to to refer to a journalist who exploits, exaggerates, or distorts the news in service of sensationalism. Or you could interpret "yellow" to mean contemptibly craven.

Based on her conduct, Lori Kilchermann — an editor at the Ionia, Michigan Sentinal-Standard — is at least one of those.

Kilchermann is suing some citizens who said she met the first definition.

The dispute arises from a story in the Ionia Sentinel-Standard entitled "Four Arrested In Farmhouse Meth Bust." Kilchermann was the editor at the time. The Sentinel-Standard had an angle on the meth bust: it happened at a farmhouse that had hosted a Republican fundraiser. The paper's staff also chose a photo of the Republican fundraiser:

The photo — taken two years earlier at an Ionia Republican Party event, which was attended by then-candidates Rick Snyder and Brian Calley — showed a woman, Kristy Cuttle, who was arrested and later pleaded guilty in the meth case.

It also showed four people not connected to the bust — Cuttle’s husband, who had died since the photo was taken, two retired teachers and a woman who helped organize the campaign event.

Several citizens objected, met with Kilchermann, and wrote letters and Facebook posts and emails characterizing her conduct as "yellow journalism." Whether it was or not is a matter of opinion, particularly given the flexibility of the term.

But Kilchermann, a journalist who relies professionally on robust free speech, the protections of the First Amendment, and the right of all Americans to express their opinion, responded bravely with the remedy of more speech.

Oh, wait.

No she didn't.

Kilchermann, represented by Carrie Gallagher of Duff Chadwick & Associates, sued, claiming defamation, Butthurt in the First Degree1, and tortious interference with business relationships. Her complaint, which I have uploaded here, is explicitly premised on the notion that it is defamatory to say Kilchermann is a "yellow journalist" or that that she "editorializes the news," and that by — among other things — encouraging people to stop subscribing to the Sentinel, the defendants have wrongly interfered with her "business expectancies."

The problem is, of course, that statements of opinion are absolutely protected by the First Amendment when, as here, they are premised on known and disclosed facts. "Yellow journalism" is a classic example of rhetorical flair that is self-evidently opinion because its application is based on issues of fairness and bias on which different observers will differ. "Editorializes the news" is another classic example; show a political news story to partisans of two parties and you'll get two opinions on whether it editorializes.

Did the Sentinel — and its editor Kilchermann — engage in editorializing and yellow journalism by emphasizing a meth bust's ties to partisan politics? That's a matter of taste. The complaint says that the paper "believed" that the connection was newsworthy — a word that merely underlines that it's a matter of opinion. I find the incident banal rather than shocking. But complaining about it — and calling for the paper and its editors and writers to experience social consequences — is core speech protected by the First Amendment.

Whether or not Kilchermann is a "yellow journalist" in the sense of bias, her lawsuit marks her as a "yellow journalist" in the sense of despicable moral cowardice and betrayal of American values. Rather than speak out to refute criticisms of her work — rather than use the remedy of more speech, and respect the protections that makes her profession possible — Kilchermann has chosen to demand that the court system punish people who state their opinions of her in a way that hurts her feelings.

I sought a comment from Ms. Kilchermann's attorney, and did not get a response. Within a few hours of my tweet to Kilchermann's Twitter handle @LoriKilchermann, she shut down the account. Yellow indeed.

How can you possibly trust, or respect, a journalist who thinks that she has a right to be protected from negative opinions of her journalism? How can you possibly respect, or trust, the newspaper that continues to enjoy the protections of the First Amendment even as its editor seeks to deny those protections to others?

  1. She called it, as people tend to, intentional infliction of emotional distress.  

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. jimmythefly says

    Serious question: Is "intentional infliction of emotional distress" actually illegal in some way or form?

  2. Shane says

    Big Media is dead, long live big media!!!

    Thank gawd the interwebz has leveled the playing field. I shudder to think of something like this happening in the time when one local paper, was the norm for pretty much everywhere.

  3. jimmythefly says

    Thanks Nicholas.

    I figured it was along those lines (and like a lazy jerk I only googled it after I had already asked the question).

    It just seemed so weird, as there are obviously times when people are specifically intently trying to inflict emotional distress, but it is also clearly not illegal in those times (i.e. WBC protests and their ilk).

  4. JWH says

    Hmm … Seems to me that by running a photo of unrelated folk alongside a headline about a meth lab, one Ms. Kilchermann may have opened the door to a lawsuit (of some kind) herself.

    Of course, reasonable people might have chosen not to sue, instead seeking the remedy of more speech. Of course, if Ms. Kilchermann sues those individuals, I would think those individuals might suddenly see merit in bringing their own suit.

  5. Mitch says

    Since Ken has already done a spectacular job of demonstrating the professional shortcomings of Lori Kilchermann, let me take a moment to point out the professional shortcomings of her attorney, Carrie Gallagher.

    1. It is First Amendment boilerplate that issues of opinion are constitutionally incapable of being defamation, unless they impliedly assert matters of fact that are untrue. Since the letters at issue make clear the facts upon which they base the accusations of "yellow journalism" – and those facts are not challenged – it is impossible for the letters to be defamatory.

    2. The Complaint crafted by Ms. Gallagher alleges, but then ignores, one fact that (if true) might be a well-founded basis for a claim. The Complaint alleges that one of the defendants (Mary Seidelman) threatened to send male friends to the plaintiff's office and "rip out her throat." If that threat was actually made, and was made in a context that it could reasonably be feared as an actual statement of intent, then that truly could be tortious action. But, after describing that threat in paragraph 15, it is ignored in the balance of the Complaint, unless you count the boilerplate reincorporation of all previously alleged facts in Count II of the Complaint. And Count II (intentional infliction of emotional distress) is alleged against all "defendants" even though only one is alleged to have made the threat.

    3. Ms. Gallagher's failure to distinguish between a potentially meritorious claim against one defendant and frivolous claims against all of the other defendants indicates to me, in my opinion, that I would never want to hire Ms. Gallagher as local counsel in any matter. To the contrary, I would look forward to facing Ms. Gallagher in court as an adversary.

  6. LTOwel says


    If I remember my high school mock trial experience correctly, that would be a false light claim. That would at least be worth arguing to the court, to see if they'd suffered damages.

  7. Katherine says

    Are you sending out a Popehat signal on this? I am retired but still licensed in Michigan and would be willing to help if needed

  8. Allen says

    I am often reminded that Journalism's top honor, the Pulitzer Prize, is named after a man who engaged in "yellow journalism."

    So, shouldn't she be pleased that someone accused her of behavior that Joseph Pulitzer engaged in?

  9. says

    She cites wikipedia for the definition of "yellow journalism." See Para. 19. I wonder how she is going to get that into evidence? Learned treatise?

  10. says

    And in Para. 24 states that "Defendants also noted in the . . . Letter that they would share their opinion of Plaintiff. . ." That seems to be protected activity, no?

  11. gramps says

    @adam– or a 4th possibility: she was afraid to go out to the dangerous crime scene to get a current photo, so pulled an older one from the files while safely locked inside her business….

    Does this post qualify as a Popehat Signal?

  12. Renee Jones says

    This is what happens when capitalists run newsrooms. Read "Digital Disconnect."

  13. JT says

    Filing a lawsuit, should I cite legal authorities or Wikipedia? Hmm. What. To. Do . . . I know! Wikipedia *and* that Oxford book thing! That there's some real credibility, I tells ya.

  14. AlphaCentauri says

    I notice the suit includes a copy of the print version as an exhibit, but not the online photo that is the actual subject of the defendants' ire. Didn't they get a screen shot before they pulled it down?

  15. apauld says

    @Clark– I'm not a country fan; but an alt-country band named 'Farmhouse Meth Bust' would be a must see. Just because.

  16. Malc says

    One extra heaping pile-o-bizarre is the whine^h^h^h^h^hcount in the complaint about people writing to The Yellow Journalist Kilchermann's boss to grumble about The Yellow Journalist.

    I mean, WTF? Someone does a crappy job, I complain to their boss, they sue me???? I would LOVE to see the deposition of the boss/parent company: either they support The Yellow Journalist Kilchermann, in which case they open themselves up to all sorts of future problems (e.g. consider a sexual abuse complaint; if the parent company supports Kilchermann, then they cannot expect victims of abuse to report said abuse to them lest the victim be sued by the abuser, so they're on the hook, liability wise, BIG time); OR they reject The Yellow Journalist Kilchermann's contention and support the defendants writing to them, making her look stupid(er) and leaving her open to disciplinary action aka firing her foolish ass.

    P.s. of course, a "Yello journalist" is a biographer of a Swiss band…

  17. Black Betty says


    This story scratched my craw the moment I read about it. And I'm glad you called this twat out on it. What a total COWARD. I hope these people counter-sue for the inconvenience of being dragged into court over this nonsense.


  18. Black Betty says

    And @RJ…


    I never believed it, but Ken was right. I used to laugh at all those preppers, but who's laughing now? I guess it's time to head on down to the Costco and start buying up supplies for the endgame. F@#%& Ponies!

  19. Tarrou says

    "This is what happens when capitalists run newsrooms."

    LOLWUT? We are supposed to take as gospel that the newsroom would be less censorious of opposing views if it were backed by the full force and power of the government, rather than one wiki-quoting lawyer?

  20. Luke G says

    Wow, I almost sent you a link to the article I read about this story, but then I thought "nah, those big-time fancypants-es over at Popehat won't care about small time Michigan problems." Looks like my state can be petty with the big boys!

  21. ZarroTsu says

    IANAL, and even I understand the use of a defamation suit.

    If an advertizement defames you by name, then you do it.

    If anything that makes you feel bad doesn't fall into the above, then you don't do it. Unless you're The Penguin or something.

    (Batman: The Dark Knight Settles Defamation Charges?)

  22. says

    @Renee — Yes, those famous agrarian collectivist Marxists Hearst and Pulitzer certainly did a better job of working for people, not profit, what with their lateral power structures and consensus decision making and communal ownership and free gluten-free vegan meals for all employees….

  23. andrews says

    Tell me again, how does she want this to go to a jury trial? No doubt the members of the jury, and the audience in the courtroom, will get well exposed to the statements which Kilchermann seeks to suppress.

    Brilliant lawyering on someone's part. Just not very brilliant lawyering.

  24. Jesse from Tulsa says

    Streisand Effect: until she sued her critics, I had no idea that people held the opinion that Lori Kilchermann is a yellow journalist. I didn't even know that a Yellow Journalist was someone who exaggerates the news in the service of sensationalism. Think, without Lori Kilchermann's lawsuit I never would have gained such a useful term to express myself.

    If someone Googles Lori Kilchermann now, what do you think will come up?

    Bad move Lori Kilchermann.

  25. JWH says


    That sounds about right. I don't recall enough about false light to even know if it would be successful here … but I'm wondering if the potential suit would be a useful club to brandish against Ms. Kilchermann

  26. James Pollock says

    "LOLWUT? We are supposed to take as gospel that the newsroom would be less censorious of opposing views if it were backed by the full force and power of the government, rather than one wiki-quoting lawyer?"

    I believe the theory is that once upon a time, editors ran the newroom (i.e., directed reporters, chose what stories to run and which to hold, etc.) while the publisher ran the paper as a whole, and worried about whether or not the paper is profitable. This being the case because if the paper is biased to its advertisers, it will quickly become known for being biased to its advertisers, which leads to declining circulation followed by abandonment by said advertisers en masse.

  27. Jack says

    What is particularly bad about this is the woman who was busted for meth had absolutely nothing to do with the fundraiser that Kilchermann "linked" to it. Apparently, it was the owners of the farm, the Seidelmans, who were hosting the fundraiser – the meth maker was only incidental to it in that she rented the property.

    Kilchermann gets called out for doing a truly scummy thing and then decides to sue the people who own the property for being rightfully upset at her…

    While that was one of the most painful complaints I have ever read and that this is clear as day protected speech – I am glad she did this. This woman deserves to be absolutely eviscerated by the web and in court. Mrs. Kilchermann – meet the end of your career…

    I hope the Michigan Anti-SLAPP law protects the defendants and she has to pay attorneys fees…

  28. says

    To answer the question of what comes up on a google search of her name: Popehat! Her etsy site is close to being driven off the front page of google results.

  29. JWH says

    James Pollock has it right. For at least a while, the standard has been for the publisher to handle business aspects of the newspaper, and for professional editors and reporters to handle the content side. This actually became more the standard when corporations (Gannett, Media General, etc.) took over newspapers.

    A newspaper derived a lot of value from its credibility as a source of information about the community. If the publisher (i.e., the business side of the paper) ruled over the newsroom with a heavy hand, that could jeopardize the paper's value.

  30. Rich Rostrom says

  31. Rich Rostrom says

    Sorry about defective post above. Please delete.

    Item: for the first 100+ years of this republic, newspapers were explicitly partisan and so were publishers. Horace Greeley, Whitelaw Reid, William Randolph Hearst, and Frank Knox were both newspapermen and politicians. Colonel McCormick of the Chicago Tribune enforced a political position which included decisions about content.

    Item: if you find this item annoying, you should be horrified by the Enderlin-Karsenty case in France. Charles Enderlin, a reporter for state-owned Canal-5 TV, sued Nicholas Karsenty for "defamation". Karsenty had published evidence that an item reported by Enderlin was wrong (with the implication that Enderlin should have known better and was negligent or gullible). Enderlin (who was backed by the French journalist union), won a judgement against Karsenty that was recently upheld by France's highest court.

    (What makes this case doubly explosive is that Enderlin reported – in an incendiary manner – the alleged killing by Israeli troops of an Arab boy, who subsequently became the literal poster child of the "Second Intifada".)

  32. leo marvin says

    This is a terrible suit. It should, and I assume will lose. That said, I wonder if Ken's ridicule and condemnation of people who bring such suits isn't sometimes infected by the curse of knowledge. I seem to recall him acknowledging the legitimacy of meritorious defamation suits. Presumably, those plaintiffs aren't "despicable moral coward[s]." But isn't the test of despicable cowardice largely subjective? How is a plaintiff who honestly but mistakenly believes s/he has a good cause of action any more despicable or cowardly than one who honestly and correctly believes it? Likewise for their lawyers, and never doubt there are many lawyers who can't distinguish fact from opinion, or otherwise know a good cause of action from a loser.

    I'm all for calling people out who use the courts to censor their critics without regard for the merits of their claim. My concern is that by seemingly inferring bad motives from the mere unmeritoriousness of their suits, Ken sometimes ignores Hanlon's razor.

  33. AlphaCentauri says

    @leo marvin, a lawyer should be competent to know if a case is frivolous, and should be able to advise his/her client that they can only sue over factual inaccuracies, not differences of opinion. Sometimes it's a judgment call whether something is a statement of fact or opinion, and that's why cases do go to trial. But this one is pretty clear-cut.

  34. says

    Is this case worthy of a formal Popehat Signal, perhaps?

    It's disappointing to see a GateHouse Media editor on the wrong (anti-free-speech) side of such a lawsuit, given the strong defense that GateHouse lawyers gave in the recently dismissed Monsarrat v. Filcman, Newman, et al. suit.

  35. leo marvin says


    I agree with all of that. None of it's responsive to what I said.

  36. Dictatortot says

    I demand mock-ups for the "Farmhouse Meth Bust" tour shirt! (Still on the whole prog-country tangent, I had tentatively been going with "Hovertractor.")

  37. James Pollock says

    "never doubt there are many lawyers who can't distinguish fact from opinion, or otherwise know a good cause of action from a loser."

    And yet the rules of civil procedure require them to sort this question properly before filing with the court. Obviously, something like 50% of lawyers are on the losing side of lawsuits… but filing a suit that cannot be won is a violation of both procedural AND ethical rules.