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Saturday, May 21, 2005

not QUITE libelous (maybe?)

I don't yet have time to write up a good response to Mr. Lurie's astoundingly dishonest OpEd in the Crimson today about the recent VP controversy at the UC, but Cambridge Common readers should know one important thing about it: there was an extensive conversation at the Crimson last night about whether or not it was technically libelous, and whether they could print it. The Crimson's President had to get involved, they had to call a lawyer and they apparently had to rework the piece multiple times so that the dishonest language would not subject the paper to a lawsuit. From dictionary.com:
Libel:1. A false publication, as in writing, print, signs, or pictures, that damages a person's reputation. 2. The act of presenting such material to the public.
I'm not sure that there could be a more clear tacit recognition that the paper was knowingly printing something untrue than the fact that they were worried about getting sued over it.

18 Comments:

At 2:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand why all of these people are making such a big deal out of UC stuff. Granted, they do some good shit, but is it really worth hurting people and fucking getting sued to win some silly political battle? Why doesn't everyone just chill the fuck out?

 
At 11:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to address the whole claim that if a paper is worried about getting sued over an article they are tacitly saying the article is not true--um, no. Just look at Mike Gallagher's investigative report on Chiquita. He uncovered many abuses by the company, but unwittingly got some of his evidence from intercepted voicemails obtained by an employee (this is illegal). Anyway, the Enquirer ran a three-day, full front-page retraction and settled for 10 million, just to avoid a libel suit from chiquita, when the article was true. The growing distrust of news media has spread to the courts, and libel suits are unfortunately not just about punishing people for lying. In many instances, they're about protecting business interests at the cost of free speech.
But to stop preaching (probably to the choir), journalists worry about libel whenever they print something controversial about someone else. Worrying about getting sued isn't worrying about lying. It's worrying that someone is going to sue you. In a perfect world, they would be more connected.
I definitely don't want to get into whether this particular piece was libelous, but I think it's important not to equate the journalist's unfortunate necessity to worry about getting sued and dishonesty. That just incited paranoia and isn't true.

 
At 12:18 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

Yes anonymous, but the fact that they were at the Crimson until 4 in the morning trying to make sure that the article couldn't be proven to be a lie doesn't exactly speak well to it's standing as truth.

 
At 3:04 PM, Anonymous Josh Barro said...

Andrew, maybe you could be clear on what's "astoundingly dishonest" about the article? Several of the most damaging claims (the gathering of current and former execs to threaten Ian with impeachment, for example) have been independently described to me by multiple people familiar with the situation.

You can claim it's all a lie, but keep this in mind. Most of the currently sitting UC members endorsed Clay Capp for UC vice president in December; none endorsed Ian Nichols. Now, they were asked to vote for Clay over Jason Lurie, who is tempermentally unfit to be UC vice president and, besides, won't even be here to serve out the term. Clay wins 22 to 20.

Either 20 UC reps learned something new about Clay since December that makes them prefer a vote essentially for "none of the above," or much of the UC realizes that the purge-and-annoint process was dirty and they want no part of it. Wonder which it is? Here's a hint: there's been no evidence of Clay's suckage, at least not new since December.

 
At 3:26 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

Mr. Barro,

I recommend you look at previous discussions for explanations about this.

First, the three reasons I think people voted for Lurie: 1. they felt uncomfortable with the whole thing and wanted to postpone it until next year. This, I think, is legitimate, even though I strongly disagree and think it's absolutely essential that Matt have a veep for the summer and early fall (when there is essentially no functioning council). 2. they didn't like Clay. Some members didn't endorse him, some may not like him. That's their perogative. 3. they have personal ambitions of their own. I know that at least one other possible candidate said that they "could probably beat Clay in the fall" and was organizing people to vote for Lurie because they knew they couldn't beat Clay in that election.

Saying something is dirty without explaining what you think that means and presenting facts is exactly what has made all of the conspiracy theories last, no one is willing to actually put down a set of facts that can be disproven.

The only fact that I've seen to this point is that a group of people, including members of the exec board, came to Matt, who went to Ian, to tell him they wanted to impeach him, and Ian chose to resign. That is fact. Now, if you think this was unjust, that it was ok that Ian hadn't done anything and had hurt other people's lives by making them do extra work, than sure, you can spin this into some horrible dirty injustice. If you think it's the UC leadership's job to hold him accountable, I think we should be commending them. We can have a discussion about this, there are established facts and differences of opinion.

The only other point of contention is the idea that others who wanted to run were pressured into not running. This is where Mr. Lurie's column is "astoundingly dishonest" and, I think, quite libelous. From Mr. Lurie:
"At least one possible opponent of Capp’s received the implied threat that a potential job would be withheld after graduation if that person ran against Capp. Others had their future Council ambitions threatened. I am sure other techniques were also used..."

Who made this implied threat? To whom? How could they have possibly had control over their potential job? What ambitions where threatened? By whom? How? What other techniques where used? By whom? Against whom?

None of these things are true, and no one is willing to actually try to establish them as fact so that their legitimacy (read: illegitimacy) can be discussed. The idea that Matt or Clay or any of their friends would threaten other people's jobs or political futures is an outrageous, slanderous and unbased claim. I think it's libel.

Ian's resignation happened under unfortunate circumstances and different people can interpret those things based on how cynical and accusatory they prefer to be. The vote between Clay and Lurie was a secret ballot (which, let us not forget, Lurie LOST), unless you've got 20 interviews all we (and Mr. Lurie) can do is speculate about why people voted the way they did. I've presented my best guess based on what I can understand.

But the argument that Matt or Clay threatened those who would run against Clay is absolutely baseless, and unless you can come up with an actual person and some actual evidence to be disputted, I think you should go back to your senior spring and let Matt and Clay be.

 
At 3:39 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

apologies for the long rant. nervour energy from studying...

 
At 3:50 PM, Anonymous andrew stillman said...

libel against whom? the accusations in jason's op-ed (as you point out) are vague enough that they don't implicate anyone in particular, even if most readers will come to the conclusions he wants us to infer

my suspicion would be that jason has names behind the accusations, but that the crimson attorney said they couldn't print them, for fear that it would then be potentially libelous. by leaving it cryptic, he keeps the crimson safe, but makes it impossible for us to discuss whether his claims are true or false.

side note: if jason's claims are true, i'm not surprised that we haven't heard anything more specific-- if someone had made threats against your future job, i'd imagine you wouldn't want to come public about it later on for fear of the same reprecussions. just a thought....

 
At 3:59 PM, Anonymous Josh Barro said...

Andrew,

I certainly think it was inappropriate for UC executives to approach Ian, threaten impeachment, and then lie about it. From May 9's Crimson:

'UC Communications Director Neeraj “Richie” Banerji ’06 said that Nichols had chosen to resign of his own volition.

'“He was not forced out and he chose to resign instead of facing embarrassment, criticism, or other actions for what he called his own negligence,” Banerji said.'

If Matt and others approached Ian and threatened to impeach him, as you say they did, why did Matt then allow the UC's communications director to deny this on the record? If that doesn't constitute "forcing out," what does? Would the executives literally have to have demanded at gunpoint that Ian resign to have "forced him out"? When will Matt or Richie correct the record?

As for the job threat, Jason described it to me and I find the description to be credible. Of course, not being the alleged threatener or the alleged threatenee, and not being directly privy to any of the relevant communications, I don't know for sure whether the claim true or false; I can only examine it and make a guess. Which... funny enough... is also the position you're in! I guess you must be way smarter than me, since you can take that evidence and know it's slandrous whereas all I can say is that I don't know all the relevant facts.

And yes, you're right, Jason did lose to Clay. Pat Buchanan also lost the 1992 New Hampshire Primary to George Bush. You know as well as I do that there are situations in which a weak win, well below expectations, is as embarrassing a loss. I suspect that if we balloted the election among Clay and Matt's immediate families, he'd win that electorate too. But you can't spin his razor-thin win among a body that almost universally endorsed him in December as anything but a stunning weakness in UC support for a Glazer-Capp administration.

Thanks for your good wishes on my senior spring.

 
At 4:25 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

My next colum in the fall: "Mr. Barro, Mr. Stillman and Mr. Lurie were a part of a man's death on Tuesday. One witness, who has chosen not to come forward for fear of his life, said that guns, knives and a nuclear bomb were involved." Is this any better than what Mr. Lurie did? I didn't say who killed the man, I didn't say how they were involved in his death, and hey, it's not my fault the witness won't come forward! Mostly a joke, but you know what I'm saying.

Mr. Barro, the reason I know and I'm not simply speculating is that I live with Matt, I've seen the emails that were sent to these people, and I've talked to those who would have been doing the "threatening." It's simply not true. I'm not sure Mr. Lurie's assurance that it was credible really does anyone any good.

The reason Mr. Banerji's statement is not false is that Ian did chose to resign of his own free will. The "embarrassment, criticism, or other actions for what he called his own negligence" was the fact that he would have been impeachment. In case you don't know, impeachment is simply the reality of a trial that would result in a vote and require a 2/3 majority to actually remove him. If Ian felt he had a case, or could win the vote, he could have easily fought it. Again, we can discuss whether or not this was a good idea, but I think that hinges on whether or not you think Ian did a good job.

A reminder: THIS IS UC POLITICS! If you honestly think that Matt or Clay threatened someone's career, you need to get some perspective.

 
At 4:37 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

Welcome to the discussion UC list. A few proposed ground rules (and, of course, you can ignore them if you like): please keep attack to a minimum, and when necessary make them political, not personal. If you are going to post to try to establish facts, please do not post anonymously, because an anonymous post does nothing to establish fact (other than the fact that some anonymous person wants us to think it's a fact).

Also, please keep in mind that there are real people, with real lives, and real feelings (yes, feelings...awww!), so let's try to keep the politics of personal destruction to a minimum. So far so good on that point, but let's try to keep it that way.

Thanks,
the Editor.

 
At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Josh Barro said...

Andrew,

First of all, please call me Josh. I'm 20 years old, we go to college together, and I'm definitely not going to call you "Mr. Golis."

Your scenario is different from Jason's column for several reasons. First of all, there's no murder that I'm involved in; I can't speak for Jason or Andrew Stillman, but I suspect the same is true of them. So, your claim would be a lie. You don't know whether Jason's claim is a lie or not, and you certainly couldn't prove in court that it's a lie.

Further, unlike your construction, Jason has not implicated anybody. As Andrew Stillman pointed out, to libel somebody, you have to libel somebody. Jason did not implicate any specific person.

If you're so sure it's libellous, I assume you're advising Matt to get a lawyer, right?

Finally, I think you're fixating a bit much on just Matt and Clay regarding the threat. Jason didn't say that either of them issued a threat. It could have been anyone else in the UC sphere working on Clay's behalf; it's even possible Matt and Clay didn't know about it. I understand you're well connected, but please consider the possibility that somebody threatened somebody without running it by you first.

 
At 4:45 PM, Blogger Neeraj "Richie" Banerji said...

I stand by the record. Ian did choose to resign instead of "facing embarrassment, criticism, or other actions."

If Ian was pretty confident he was being wrongfully dealt with or being "forced out," why didn't he just NOT resign and state his case?

 
At 4:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think you should go back to your senior spring and let Matt and Clay be."

hey golis, play by your own rules about respect before you expect anyone else to play by them.

(feel free to delete this post)

 
At 4:54 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

I don't think that was disrespectful. I was just saying that he should come with an actual argument (as opposed to the general innuendo being put up in the place of an argument) or leave these good people alone. You're trying to destroy their reputations without giving them a chance to actually engage the accusations.

Josh (I'm glad we've reached this level of informality, haha), my example about the death was a bad one, but I was just trying to point out that you can make almost any accusations as, so long as it can't be proven false (because the witness won't come forward, because no one else was there, because the language is sufficiently vague, etc., and destroy someone else.

Also, if it wasn't Matt and/or Clay, who was it? Who did they threaten? How did they threaten them? Did Matt and/or Clay know about this threat? If not, shouldn't this attack be pointed at them and have almost nothing to do with Matt or Clay at all? If I go out and shoot someone you don't like on your behalf, are you guilty of murder?

This is the other problem with Mr. Lurie's column, it mashes together a whole set of individual things as if they are a part of a collected effort and continued narration. Unless he has some evidence for how that is true, I think we're back to the whole dishonesty problem.

 
At 5:30 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

to clarify my second lame example, it should say "if i shoot someone you don't like on your behalf without you ever knowing about it, are you guilty of murder?"

 
At 6:55 PM, Blogger Faraz said...

hey guys - look its the end of the year and maybe we all need to just relax a little on this because at the end of the day this is not about national or even regional politics - its college right? and not to be cynical or anything but I don't think the vast majority of the campus care too much about the UC or its politics...this whole Ian thing is something interesting to read over breakfast. I think Clay is going to make an excellent VP and everyone should set aside their personal differences and get behind Matt and Clay so we can get on and actually get some work done instead of wasting time bitching each other out (rightly or not) over something we cannot control!

 
At 8:21 PM, Blogger Matthew Mahan said...

Hey all. Faraz, I mostly agree with the spirit of your comment, though I also think that there is something to be said for getting to the truth of the matter because regardless of how old we are or how much it affects the world, this is a serious question of character and I will not stand by while Matt and Clay are (perhaps only implicitly) maligned by rumors and insinuations.

To that end, I'll share a couple of thoughts, which I'm sure my good buddy Josh will dispute:)

It seems to me that the two most important--and really the only substantive--allegations are that 1) Ian was "forced" or "coerced" to resign and, 2) that "someone" threatened to withhold a job from "someone" else if they ran for VP, thereby clearing the way for Clay.

As for the first allegation, I think that Ian, Glazer, and anyone else who sat down before the UC meeting in which Ian resigned will tell you that Ian was informed that at least 10 members of the UC had signed an impeachment petition and compiled evidence supporting why they felt Ian had not fulfilled the duties of his office (despite frequent prodding from members of the Executive Board). If you bother to ask people on the ExecBoard (you can find their names and emails at www.uc.fas.harvard.edu) I think that you’ll find that many, if not all, had substantive reasons for feeling that Ian was continually dropping the ball.

Anyway, Ian was told that this was going to happen and he had the choice of defending himself or resigning. He decided to simply resign rather than make a case on his own behalf. Had Ian been doing his job, I highly doubt that 10 members of the Council would have felt strongly enough to compile evidence and formally impeach him. As far as I know, and I’ve spoken to many of the parties involved, no one threatened Ian with anything other than a constitutionally valid impeachment petition, which is an important safeguard in the functioning of any democratic body, and hardly constitutes coercion.

And as for the second, I have seen the email that is the subject of this allegation. The email consisted of the following flow of commentary: 1) endorsement of Clay, 2) discussion of why Clay would be a good VP and why the sender of the email thought that the recipient of the email would be better suited for one or two other positions within the council given his experience, and finally, 3) a couple of lines essentially saying, “if you’re still interested in talking about working at Goldman next year, hit me up, my email/number will be, etc.; I’ll be in NYC this summer and would be happy to talk about it.” Now, of course, someone could interpret that as an implied threat, though the first time I read it, it seemed like a pretty innocuous and genuine offer to give the recipient more info about a potential job--something that had been previously discussed between the two. BUT, even if you wanted to interpret it as a veiled threat, the obvious fact remains that the person who sent the email, who is starting at the bottom of the totem pole at Goldman next year, will not have any sway over whether or not that person gets a job there. To interpret it that way demonstrates a great deal of paranoia, if anything, which seems to me to be as responsible for “too much politics” at the UC as anything that is genuinely “too political.”

Having spoken to nearly everyone involved, reading through the various emails, and the like, I am personally convinced that neither was Ian “forced” to resign nor anyone told that they wouldn’t get a job if they ran for VP against Clay.

You know, the most interesting questions you all ought to pursue are who supplied the Crimson with all of this information, who pushed these allegations behind the scenes and lobbied to have them published, how did they spin it, and why? I don’t know all of thee answers to these questions, but I’ve learned enough over the last week to realize that there are some interesting answers out there if you really care about the truth.

Finally, I think that it is sad that Clay nearly ran unopposed until Lurie threw his hat in the ring. I would have liked to have seen more discussion and debate, and I think it is really unfortunate that people dropped out of the race simply because they felt that it was pointless run after Glazer, Blickstead, and I made it clear that we thought Clay was best for the job. I would hope that anyone who really wanted the position and felt capable of doing a good job would have had the guts to stand up there and try to convince us. Politics aren’t for the faint of heart, but that doesn’t mean that anyone was treated unfairly or in an underhanded manner.

Take care,
matt

 
At 3:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.thecrimson.com/today/article507818.html

 

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