Posted on | December 5, 2010 | 56 Comments
The first thing to remember about such a situation is that the threat of a lawsuit is just that — a threat. And this is true even after someone gets a lawyer to send you a threatening letter, as Barrett Brown has now done:
You recently posted several articles dedicated largely to the subject of my client Barrett Brown. One such article includes the following passage:
Notice, however, that Brown speaks of “my colleague Michael Hastings,” expressing a collegiality that probably exists mainly in Brown’s mind. Brown and Hastings both had blogs at True/Slant, the now-defunct site which, despite funding from Forbes Media and Fuse Capital, flamed out in 15 months after publishing such memorable works as Rick Ungar’s “Send the Body to Glenn Beck.” But while Brown and Hastings were both True/Slant contributors, it wasn’t like they were hanging out around the office coffee machine, swapping stories.
So here is Brown, staring into the camera and addressing “Rich” as if he were talking to a buddy, while referring to Hastings as his colleague, in a video recorded July 15 — three weeks after the June 23 publication of theVanity Fair piece that Brown references, and two weeks beforeTrue/Slant’s July 29 shutdown. The timing seems significant, as if this were a cry for help.
You might get the idea that Barrett Brown is kind of a moody loner, isolated and alienated, attempting to invent a social context for himself where none exists.
You state, as supposed fact, that Barrett Brown and MIchael Hastings are not colleagues or friends and rather that Barrett Brown is in essence a fraud who uses a false association with Hastings to ‘invent a social context for himself.’ Any amount of investigation on your part would have quickly and easily determined this to be false. Brown and Hastings’ relationship is professional, substantial, and well documented.
Your post falsely insinuating that Brown is fraudulently representing himself and his professional relationships is especially damaging as Michael Hastings wrote the blurb for Brown’s upcoming book and Brown’s reputation and relationship with certain figures such as Hastings is integral to the development of Project PM, Brown’s distributed think-tank. You have published lies which you’ve claimed to be fact that, if taken seriously, substantially damage the financial interests and professional reputation of my client. As these lies are quite easily shown to be untrue it can be assumed that either you printed with malice what you knew to be false or you wrote your article with reckless disregard for its veracity.
My client would like to resolve this matter quickly. We request that you link to the refutation he has posted and that you do so from the post from which the above passage is taken, and also that you publish the entirety of that refutation in an additional post at your blog. Alternatively, you may run a satisfactory retraction to the passage above, although Brown is not requesting that you take down any of your work.
Please be informed that if this situation is not resolved we are prepared to begin legal proceedings to protect my client’s interests.
[Name of Lawyer]
First of all, as anyone could see if they would care to investigate, Brown’s response is linked from my original post as a trackback. So the terms which Brown’s lawyer seeks “to resolve this matter quickly” were satisfied even before he threatened me.
Second, as to my alleged “reckless disregard for . . . veracity,” this was addressed in my follow-up post yesterday. Barrett Brown himself has admitted to perpetrating falsehoods online as a “troll” in a post called “Confessions of a Phony Internet Muslim.” Given Brown’s self-confessed mendaciousness, my skepticism toward his assertion of collegiality with Michael Hastings would seem entirely justified.
Third, the lawyer’s letter repeats Brown’s tendentious mischaracterization of my post. I wrote that Brown’s video expressed “a collegiality that probably exists mainly in Brown’s mind. . . . [I]t wasn’t like they were hanging out around the office coffee machine, swapping stories.” This was germain to my point that trolls (and remember, Brown has confessed to engaging in troll behavior) are a byproduct of the 21st-century workplace, which often results in people working in social isolation — that is, sitting alone in front of their computers, rather than in an office environment — and that the online world causes some people to fixate on virtual relationships with people they’ve never met in real life.
This isolation has consequences. To quote a famous cartoon, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” And likewise on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a sociopathic narcissist unless, in your desperate attempts to bridge the yawning chasm of cognitive dissonance between your imagined importance and your actual irrelevance, you engage in behavior that makes your mental disorder blindingly apparent to everyone who cares to notice.
Could the preceding sentence be interpreted as a description of Barrett Brown? Let me be clear in addressing Barrett Brown’s lawyer: There is no “accusation” or “insinuation” here.
Phenomena are are observed, described and compared, and readers are free to draw their own inferences. I am a journalist, not a clinical therapist, and am unqualified to offer a professional opinion as to whether Barrett Brown is psychotic, neurotic or a paragon of good mental health. Yet without any resort to psychiatric diagnosis, it seems obvious that Brown’s rage toward me is fueled not by what I wrote about him, but rather by the fact that I called attention to the absurdity of his video lecture to National Review editor Rich Lowry:
How can I be said to have “damaged” Barrett Brown’s reputation with a few dozen words about Brown’s relationship to Michael Hastings, when Brown has advertised his idiocy to the world with that video? When an inconsequential 28-year-old takes to YouTube demanding that the editor of National Review respond to his three-week-old blog post — addressing Lowry as “Rich,” as if they were old buddies — he thereby invites comparison to Chris Crocker of “Leave Britney Alone” fame.
And not in a good way.
So when I wrote that Barrett Brown’s expression of collegiality with Hastings “probably exists mainly in Brown’s mind” — note the qualifiers “probably” and “mainly” in that phrase — this was an entirely plausible impression based on Brown’s demonstrated tendency to exaggerate his own importance.
Yet the intent of my post was not to assert that Barrett Brown is a pompous young fool. This I consider self-evident, but of no interest to readers, given Brown’s well-deserved obscurity and insignificance. Rather, I cited Brown as an example of a trend: Namely, the way in which social isolation and virtual relationships affect “troll” behavior on the Internet. And this was why Brown’s reference to Hastings as his “colleague” caught my attention. As I surmised, “it wasn’t like they were hanging out around the office coffee machine, swapping stories.”
And they were not, were they?
“Brown and Hastings’ relationship is professional, substantial, and well documented,” his lawyer says, but have Barrett Brown and Michael Hastings ever met face-to-face?
His lawyer doesn’t claim they have, and I am not aware that Brown himself has ever made that claim. Maybe someone could direct me to a Facebook page full of photos showing Brown and Hastings hanging out at parties, having a merry old time, but until such evidence is produced, I continue to believe that Brown generally works alone — in social isolation — and that his collegiality with Hastings is exactly the sort of “virtual relationship” that was the subject of my post, “Narcissism, Isolation and Trolls.”
Prove me wrong about that, and I will be only too happy to retract my statement that readers “might get the idea” (again, note the qualifying language) that Brown is “kind of a moody loner, isolated and alienated, attempting to invent a social context for himself.”
The very fact that Brown has enlisted an attorney to threaten me with “legal processings” unless I retract, or else link to what his lawyer calls a “refutation” — a demand which, as previously noted, was satisfied by the trackback link before Brown ever threatened me — has done far more damage to her client’s “professional reputation” than I did with a mere blog post.
Think about this, dear reader: Brown had already completed the manuscript of a book criticizing Tom Friedman, Charles Krauthammer, Marty Peretz, et al. — a book blurbed by Hastings as a critique of an “entire generation of over-published bullshit artists [who] deserve to be tasered in the face.” And for no apparent reason, beyond the fact that I had criticized him on my blog, Brown decided to add to this book a chapter about me.
Brown claims to have sent me a draft of the chapter, but I haven’t read it, nor do I have any interest in seeing it. The point is that I am quite clearly not in the same league as Friedman, Krauthammer & Co. I find it hard to believe that Brown’s publisher wouldn’t look at this proposed addition to Brown’s book and say, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? What’s the point of this chapter, except to grind an axe and vent your personal hatred of a scapegoat whom the vast majority of readers never heard of?”
How is it, you see, that Barrett Brown can indulge in such petty vindictiveness and then have the unmitigated gall to ask his lawyer to write this letter accusing me of harboring “malice” toward him?
Go read my articles at The American Spectator and decide for yourself whether I have perpetrated the sort of punditry practiced by Friedman, Krauthammer, Peretz, et al.
It’s like the lyrics of that old Sesame Street song: “One of these things is not like the others.” I’ve been many things in my life, but this is the first time I’ve been a non sequitur.
So I’m no more intimidated by this e-mail from Barrett Brown’s lawyer than I was intimidated by Barrett Brown himself. And as for the claim that Brown’s cherished “professional reputation” is “integral to the development of Project PM,” let me once again show you the video in which Brown describes that particular pipe dream:
Is there any reader who can watch all 12 minutes and 55 seconds of that meandering diatribe without concluding that Brown is nucking futz?
C’mon: Somebody transcribe the whole video and then defend Barrett Brown’s hare-brained scheme as an effective business model.
I double-dog dare you.
On March 24, 2010, Brown put up a True/Slant post describing Project PM and — as of 8 p.m. Dec. 5 — that post had 2,114 page-views. Two thousand page-views in nearly nine months, and Barrett Brown claims such genius insight into the online world that he alone can bring about “the development of a communicational schematic that is superior to anything else in existence”?
Assuming that lawyers are still required to study Latin, I would ask Barrett Brown’s lawyer to reflect on the ancient proverb, Quem deus vult perdere dementat prius.
The rest of you: Please contribute to the “F*** You, Barrett Brown” Legal Defense Fund. Despite the 99% likelihood that my legal expenses in the case of Brown v. McCain will be exactly zero, there ought to be some recompense — $10 or $20 — for the time I’ve spent mocking Brown’s absurd claims of defamation. And assuming that Brown’s lawyer tells him to forget his silly idea of a lawsuit, proceeds will go to help repair my deer-damaged KIA and buy my six kids Christmas gifts.
UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! Does this make Glenn Reynolds — who is, I point out, a Yale-educated law professor — an “unindicted co-conspirator”?
UPDATE II: Professor William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection emails: “I will link to your post, but only if you promise me a thank you in the post, so I can get a rebound off your Instalanche. If you don’t, you’ll hear from my lawyer. And you can quote me on that.”
Lawyers: Can’t live with ’em, can’t shoot ’em in the head and dump their corpses in the river.
UPDATE III: Little Miss Atilla links. She does not, however, volunteer to transcribe Brown’s 12-minute “Project PM” diatribe.
Women: Can’t live with ’em, can’t carve ’em up with a chainsaw and feed ’em to Rottweilers.
Also: “Merry Christmas, everybody,” and it’s my youngest daughter’s 8th birthday.
UPDATE IV: Linked by Linkiest — thanks!