Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, March 21, 2008

Anything You Don't Say Can and Will Be Used Against You

If you are contemplating taking a public stand on a controversial issue, take my advice: Don't. The local media-academic complex will knock you down.

For example, our "community paper," the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, has abrogated its moral and legal responsibilities, turning the comments section in the online version of the newspaper into a fetid cesspool of libel, lies, gossip, rumor, and innuendo.

This is an e-mail exchange between Daily News publisher Nathan Alford and myself:

Date: Friday, March 21, 2008 11:03 AM
From: Nathan Alford
To: Tom Forbes
Subject: Re: Libelous Comment
Size: 4 KB


Your note was received. Thank you.

You and I have visited about the positives and negatives of unmoderated public forums on the Web. One negative is that often times those engaged in public debate get poked, or become the subject of loose and unpleasant accusations.

Remember, we're not editing or filtering these comments. We view each individual as responsible for their comments. That's per our written policy, "Individuals posting libelous statements may be held individually responsible."

In this case, it sounds like that's Chris Lupke. I'd encourage you to discuss the matter further with Chris.

Regards, Nathan.

Tom Forbes wrote:


Chris Lupke has left a comment on the Daily News website that states:

"It is remarkable, though, that in his frustration his only recourse is a homophobic joke. What was it last week -- nooses? Disgusting. Never ends."

If you read the entire comment thread on the "TOWN CRIER III: Lessons from the Hawkins development settlement" column, you will see that Lupke mistakenly labels the "tjkong" commentor as me. He has done this on numerous occasions and in the past I have ignored it. But this time, claiming that I am "homophobic" or tell "homophobic" jokes is libelous and injurious to my reputation (much less the Nazi allegations he also made.) I warned you about the dangers of anonymous
commenting when we had lunch several months ago. I continue to urge you to associate real names with online commentors. If you take this measure, this type of behavior will stop. This has nothing to do with either a "constructive community dialog" or the First Amendment.

I demand the "homophobic" comment be immediately deleted and Mr. Lupke notified that I am not "tjkong" and that his comments about me are way out of line. If this is not done right away, I will have no choice but to seek legal remedies to protect my name and standing in the community.

I await your prompt reply.

Best regards,

Tom Forbes

*Nathan H. Alford*
Moscow-Pullman Daily News Editor & Publisher
(208) 882-5561 ext. 247

Visit us on the web at:
DNews.com NWmarket.com

Alford's logic might apply if I had been involved in the discusssion online at Dnews.com, but I HAVE NOT BEEN. The column in question and all of the previous comments had nothing to do with me, and yet Lupke manages to drag me into it anyway. So Lupke is now free to continue to claim that I am someone that I am not and libel me with accusations of making "homophobic jokes" and a "prurient fascination" with Nazis.

I certainly intend to bring this matter to Lupke's attention, but not before making a public records request to see if he used his WSU account to post these comments.

And the Daily News' defense of unmoderated comments will not hold water, in my opinion, when subscribers have to pay with a credit card to access the online edition and when the identity of every poster is known to them.

I encourage you to drop Nathan Alford a line and let him know how you feel.


Michael said...

Nathan Alford might want to visit with an attorney about this one. I do know that papers are liable if they print a slanderous letter to the editor in their letters to the editor section.

Illuvian said...

Michael, you would be correct and the word is libel not slander(slander=speech, libel=writing) if the paper had published his comments in written form. Since the newspaper did not do this and it was published on the web the paper isn't liable however the poster is. However, it is worth noting that winning a lawsuit against this would be incredibly difficult seeing as it would be very difficult to prove that he was lying, and that it actually caused harm.

NOTE: I am not a lawyer, and this is not intended as legal advice.

Tom Forbes said...

Thanks illuvian. Yes, libel is held to a very high standard because you have to prove actual malice.

However, proving that Lupke was lying would be easy. I am not the commenter that he was chiding for making "homophobic jokes" and this could be proven quite easily by computer records.

So easy, in fact, another comment in the same thread that Lupke made that actually used the word "Tom" has now been removed. Whether the Daily News removed it or Lupke requested that it be removed, it's obvious that someone is very concerned with the legal ramifications of the reckless disregard that Lupke's mistaken ID demonstrated.