/Meet the man behind McDaniel’s bill to force media to report ‘vindication of the accused’

Meet the man behind McDaniel’s bill to force media to report ‘vindication of the accused’

We were particularly interested in a bill filed this year by Senator Chris McDaniel, which passed the Senate committee last Wednesday. The “Stop Guilt by Accusation Act” would require media outlets to report on the outcomes of cases involving public officials that were previously reported by these same outlets. This means that if a newspaper publishes an article about a public officer engaging in unethical or illegal conduct, it would be required by law to report on the outcome of the litigation process. McDaniel laughed when McDaniel was asked about it on the podcast. “Unfortunately, both sides have been able to weaponize the press organizations in this modern era.” McDaniel said that the press has become weaponized in certain areas. “Why isn’t the story newsworthy enough for the front end to report the vindication? This bill is not political. This bill should be supported by both parties, I believe.” As journalists, we are aware of the principle of “innocent until proven innocent” and that not all media outlets do enough to identify the accused. We also consider the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, we question whether the government’s mandates about what information we can and cannot report are constitutional. Layne Bruce, executive Director of the Mississippi Press Association, stated that “this legislation clearly violates the U.S. Constitution.” McDaniel stated that media cannot discredit any individual by accurately reporting on criminal court proceedings or law enforcement. However, any attempt by the government to force media to publish or broadcast any reports of any nature would violate fundamental tenets under the First Amendment. This is one reason he introduced the bill. McDaniel stated that this is the type of case that makes it to the federal court system. “And we know that three of the four U.S. Supreme Court justices have made lip service to the idea that this public official doctrine should not be repealed or reversed.” We were curious about where and what inspired this bill. We began digging because McDaniel was not forthcoming in his interview about the origins of this bill. Mississippi legislators often introduce bills that are drafted by individuals or groups from outside the state. This is more than any other state. USA Today and the Center for Public Integrity found that Mississippi had the highest number of model laws introduced in the country in 2019. These bills are often introduced to leverage the federal courts system to alter or expand existing laws. We were able to find a website which shares McDaniel’s bill title by doing a quick Google search. The site lists several states, and McDaniel is listed as the sponsor of the Mississippi legislation. McDaniel’s former campaign manager, Sen. Melanie Sojourner (R-Natchez), filed the same bill. John Gunter Jr. appears at the bottom of this website. He is a Utah man who lists associated groups as “The De Facto attorney Generals”, “Special Forces Of Libertys” and “Clean Services Foundation.” Although several attempts to contact Gunter failed, his name was mentioned in numerous news articles and court filings across the country. Chris Sevier kept appearing in many of these articles and court filings. Gunter and Sevier have been co-plaintiffs of several lawsuits and they have jointly drafted legislation that was pushed by legislators in the statehouses across the country. Searching Sevier’s name returned a slew of news articles, lawsuits, and other legal proceedings. In 2011, his Tennessee law license was put on disability inactive status due to mental illness. However, that hasn’t stopped him filing lawsuits in many states. Apple was sued by him for not blocking porn that he claimed killed his marriage. He has drafted anti-LGBT laws that were pushed by legislators in many states. In apparent protest of same-sex marriage, he tried to marry his laptop across three states. Sevier had a long-running dispute with John Rich, a well-known country singer. It began in 2008 over song rights. Rich claimed Sevier stalked Rich and sent him numerous emails, despite a restraining orders. Rich also alleged that Sevier sent Rich an email that contained a picture of Sevier naked, with his body covered in a substance believed to be blood, The Tennessean reported in 2014. A 17-year-old girl also accused Sevier of stalking her around the same time as Rich proceedings. After some strange meetings that Sevier had held inside the Missouri statehouse, Missouri legislative leaders told lawmakers that Sevier was a security risk. We had many questions for Sevier. The main question was about how he drafted the bill, and whether he believes it to be constitutional. Sevier spoke to Mississippi Today in a 30-minute telephone interview on Friday. He said that he wrote the bill. Sevier said that he had “about 300 people” who worked with him to draft his legislation. He’s presented it in several states over the past three years. He acknowledged that none of these bills have been passed into law. He said, “But we are getting pretty close to passing in several states.” Sevier claimed that recent allegations against President Donald Trump and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh prompted him to file the McDaniel bill. Sevier stated that “the freedom of the press does not exist in absolute.” He said that those accused of wrongdoing with the press can lose their civil rights. Sevier replied, “(Bringing in my past) is a good method to try and defeat bills.” That approach has been tried by many reporters. That approach can be tried, if you wish, man. They have been doing that for the past two years. They can’t stop the things we’re working towards, so they rely upon fake cases against people like me.” Last week’s bill passed the Senate Judiciary A Committee. However, several lawmakers, including Sen. Briggs Hopson (R-Vicksburg), questioned McDaniel regarding the constitution of the bill and voted against. The bill now moves to the Senate floor for discussion and has a March 10 deadline for action on the floor. McDaniel was just a few votes shy of defeating U.S. Senator Thad Cochran in the 2014 Republican primary. This is the first bill McDaniel has filed since then. McDaniel declined to answer if Mississippians should be worried that Sevier had drafted the legislation. McDaniel stated that there is not much you can do to stop people claiming ties with pieces of legislation. “Just because a knucklehead was associated with the original model act does not mean that we share anything in common. McDaniel said, “That’s a little stretch, I would suppose.” McDaniel said, “I’m not suggesting that we haven’t spoken.” I speak to many people. While I do not claim to know him personally, I don’t know much about his past or what he’s doing. Michelle Liu contributed reporting.