The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

What Part of ‘Asserting Private Knowledge’ Is So Hard to Understand?

Posted on | March 21, 2011 | 126 Comments

One of the most dangerous things a journalist can do, in terms of libel, is to claim to have private knowledge of wrongdoing by someone. That is to say, don’t assert that a person is a drunkard or a wife-beater because of what you were told or claim to have witnessed privately. Unless you’ve got police reports of the person’s arrests for DUI or assault, making such an assertion in print exposes you to a world of legal woes.

Which brings us, alas, to Patterico’s long-smoldering blog war against Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom. It flared up again when, as chronicled by PW commenters, Patterico made these assertions:

[N]obody has sent *me* any cease and desist letters lately. I’m told Jeff can’t say the same. . . .
To be clear: I have not seen the e-mails in question. I was merely told there were many of them, written at odd hours of the morning, they were rants, a letter was sent threatening action if they didn’t stop, they continued, but (i hear today for the first time) stopped soon after.
Not making it up. That’s what I was told. Some on the phone and some in e-mails. . . .
I am trying to persuade the person to release the e-mails and the cease and desist letter. The lawyer who sent it is apparently not thrilled about being dragged into this and is upset at me for having said anything. No decision will be made until after consultation with the lawyer tomorrow.

We have no idea what this is about, if it’s about anything at all. For his part, Jeff says he thinks he may be victim of identity theft and says he has received no cease-and-desist letter. But what manner of madness could have caused Patterico to make these comments?

Someone told Patterico this, but he has “not seen the e-mails in question” and a lawyer supposedly involved is “upset at me for having said anything”?

Well, you don’t say!

Because if this is what it looks like, Patterico, you’ve just breached the other lawyer’s attorney-client privilege and put yourself into a situation where, unless you can get your hands on the documentation or testimony to prove such an allegation, you’re vulnerable to a libel action from Goldstein.

At least, that’s what it looks like to me. I’m not a lawyer.

This recent flare-up in the Patterico-PW war began, apparently, with a dispute over how bloggers should respond to the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis, about which Jeff said:

Here’s an easy solution for [critics]: don’t read me, don’t link me, and try to spend less of your free time trolling my comments looking for things to pluck out and use to gin up the HATRED you so need people to feel toward me.

Indeed. What happened: An AOSHQ commenter portrayed Protein Wisdom as “LGF 2.0” because some PW commenters were seemingly critical of other bloggers’ coverage of the Fukushima crisis. And somewhere in the midst of the resulting argument, Patterico posted this:

Robert Stacy McCain has been energetically aggregating the news, and has eschewed any partisan extremes, neither wringing his hands in panic, nor (as some have done) rushing to declare everything is OK in advance of the facts. He has been appropriately suspicious of official reports and entertaining as usual.

The “as some have done” link is to Jeff reporting a “disaster averted” headline from the Guardian. Here we are more than a week later, and still no solid idea whether disaster has been averted or not. But the real issue is: Why must we choose up sides, Sharks and Jets, over events transpiring on the other side of the world? Or why must one blog be always right, and other blogs perceived as rivals or enemies of The One Good Blog? And why, in praising my Fukushima aggregation, did Patterico feel compelled to contrast it to the allegedly irresponsible indifference of Goldstein?


Honestly: I can stir the pot when I have a mind to — “oversimplified fiddle-faddle,” indeed! — but I don’t enjoy someone trying to use me as a weapon against my friends. A few weeks ago, I actually tried to broker a Patterico-Goldstein peace, to no avail. The bad blood is more than knee-deep, and there is no way I can end this dispute which hurts both of them and hurts me, too.

Now, necessarily, we must step into the Time Machine and revisit the Great LGF War of 2009. That battle, which broke out into the open while I was doing live coverage of the Sept. 12 Tea Party rally in D.C., had seemingly resolved itself. I’d gone on to win plaudits for my coverage of the Kentucky census-worker case and the Hoffman campaign in NY-23.

Then, in late November 2009, Charles Johnson published his “Why I Parted Ways With the Right” manifesto (link is to Robert Spencer’s blog post at Jihad Watch). Not long thereafter, for reasons which are to this day mysterious to me, Patterico resurrected some of the “racist” stuff that I’d spent two solid weeks dealing with in late September. Most who followed the Great LGF War concluded that I was the victim of a madman’s spite, and that there was nothing to justify Johnson’s repeated assertions that I was a “white supremacist blogger.”

Yet here was Patterico, in prosecutorial manner, bringing it all up again in December 2009. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

Jeff Goldstein came to my defense and, when there seemed some reluctance on Patterico’s part to let it go, Goldstein doubled down with a post provocatively titled: “Is Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Patrick Frey anti-semitic?”

Goldstein obviously intended to demonstrate how easy it is to make such accusations, and how difficult it can be to prove a negative. But in light of the re-eruption of the Patterico feud, Jeff has had to reiterate his purpose, because some pro-Patterico partisans were misreading that post as an outright accusation of anti-semitism.

Having traveled this deep into the meta-analysis, we go further to trace Goldstein’s broiling dispute with Patterico back as far as March 2009. Patterico had joined those criticizing Rush Limbaugh’s “I hope he fails” posture toward the Obama administration. Jeff joined me (and others) in the camp of those who, like Limbaugh, believed that direct confrontation — all-out opposition — was the best conservative response to the Obama era.

As Jennifer Rubin said, “The opposition party must oppose.” And I dare say that wisdom was amply vindicated in the mid-term election.

Yet in March 2009, when the Tea Party movement was just a-borning and no one knew how successful it would be, Jeff Goldstein issued a call to support what he called “Outlawism.” And in response, Patterico commented at Jeff’s post:

April 1 is coming fast. Money’s running out. . . . Donation requests coming soon.

OK, maybe that isn’t tantamount to “money-grubbing Jew,” but is it fair? The reference to “April 1” was that the original Pajamas Media advertising network, of which Protein Wisdom was part, would be dissolved on that date. What Patterico was saying was that Jeff was just in it for the money, that Jeff’s claim to discern a principled cause to oppose cooperation with Obama’s agenda was merely a ruse, a pretext to solicit donations.

Here we are then, two years later, and this long-running feud is now heating up like a Fukushima Daiichi reactor after its coolant system failed. Now, it appears, Patterico is accusing Goldstein of being a Shankman-esque cyberstalker whose ranting e-mail wrath can only be averted by means of a legal cease-and-desist complaint.

We shall see if Patterico can prove this. And if he can’t, we’ll see what Goldstein does in response. If this turns into Godzilla-vs-Mothra, don’t say I didn’t warn you.


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