I don’t know if my tiny core of readers (which I estimate is less than 50 at this point–though they are 50 truly discerning and intelligent folk with impeccable taste, which goes without saying since they read me1) knows or cares who Atrios is, let alone Donald Luskin, and as a rule I try to avoid the kind of inbred, talking-to-ourselves by-play that blogging is heir to, but a recent post by a blogger I like–John McKay at archy–goosed me to for once break my rule. First, the background (from McKay):
Luskin, for those new to this story, writes an NRO column and a blog primarily dedicated to hating Paul Krugman, the best columnist at the New York Times (note my lack of link to Luskin, I’ll get back to that). Luskin’s May 7 NRO column was called “We Stalked, He Balked” and was based on the idea that by getting Krugman to answer the claims of Luskin and his “squad” they somehow had him on the defensive (Krugman has been so fatally damaged by Luskin that he was nominated for a Nobel Prize this year).On October 5 Atrios posted an item on his indispensable Blog, Eschaton, with the title “Diary of a Stalker” that had a pointer to Luskin’s blog and no further comment. Luskin’s main post that day was called “Face To Face With Evil,” and described attending at a lecture and book signing by Paul Krugman. Apparently Luskin feels that throwing his own words back in his face is libel and complained. He was especially upset at some of the comments that were made by people who had the gall to actually go to his site and read his words. Atrios picks up the story:
“In my correspondence with Luskin he asked that I take down the post because of the comments, and said I had an obligation to do so. I asked if he meant a legal or ethical obligation, and he didn’t respond. I then informed him that if he would tell me which comments he specifically was unhappy with I would be happy to delete them. He declined this offer, and said I should just take them all down.”
That’s not good enough for Luskin and he has retained a lawyer. Luskin’s attorney, described by Kos as a “dumbass sleazebag lawyer (Jeffrey J. Upton of Hanify & King P.C.),” officially notified Atrios of their demand that he remove post and comments deemed objectionable by Luskin. In an apparent non sequitur, the paragraph describing Atrios’ dastardly crimes ended with the sentence: “Determining your identity for the purpose of making service of process can be easily accomplished through a subpoena to Blogspot.com.”
OK. Everybody up to speed now? Here’s the portion of McKay’s post that got to me:
Atrios’ secret identity is as closely guarded as that of Superman or the Batman. Even the Joker and Lex Luthor are far too honorable opponents to think of fighting that dirty (Brainiac might, but he’s a machine lacking such subtle emotions as honor). However, outing is not too low for Luskin and Upton. The threat is clear, cede editorial control over all mention of Luskin (a public figure by virtue of his NRO column) or lose your privacy. It’s pure, cheap legal intimidation. It’s the very definition of a nuisance suit. And the precedent has a chilling affect on all bloggers.The only way to fight a bully is for everyone to stand up for the victim. Do not let them pick us off one at a time. Do not abstain because you have some quibbles with Atrios. I did not speak up when they came for the Jews and all that. This is easy for me to say, because I like Atrios, but I hope some conservative and especially libertarian bloggers will see that their interest lies in not allowing this kind of intimidation to stand.
The course of action is clear. First, write about it. Second, boycott Luskin. If you’re linked to him, unlink him. If you are not linked to him, make a link then get rid of it just for the principle of the thing. Third, call the creepy little stalker a creepy little stalker; they can’t sue us all. Fourth, if they do sue Atrios (right now they’re just at the blustering threats stage), send him money. Calpundit has already offered to form the legal defense committee. Fifth, when they come looking Atrios, we all stand up and cry, “I am Atrios.” Sure, that leads to us all being crucified on the Via Appia, but we’ll all laugh about it when we’re older. (emphasis added–m)
McKay is right about the issues and probably about the solution even if, like a lot of other bloggers (including a surprising number of right-wingers), his concern is a trifle overblown. Orcinus puts the legal threat into perspective:
For what it’s worth, I have extensive experience with nuisance lawsuits like this; as Atrios himself notes, these kinds of things are a common way for right-wingers to harass and intimidate their critics. I’ve been subjected to similar threats multiple times over the course of my career, all of them on equally specious grounds.It does mean that Atrios is going to have to go out and hire a reasonably good libel lawyer to file a response, which will cost money in itself. I trust he’ll set up a defense fund, and all of Blogville ought to chip in to fight this one. Moreover, if Luskin does manage to learn his identity, and then reveals it, Atrios himself will have ample grounds for a countersuit.
I’m fairly confident Atrios will find that he will only need for his lawyer to file a reasonable response (which won’t be difficult) concluding with the note: “We look forward to discovery.”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard back from my would-be harassers (the list includes a former U.S. senator) after those letters.
S/he’s quite right; Luskin’s suit isn’t a serious threat; it’s a nuisance suit designed to harass and/or intimidate a blogger Donald doesn’t like. There is practically zero chance that anything will come of it except, as Orcinus says, Atrios will be put to the burden of hiring and paying a lawyer to stomp on it. But it is a sign that the wackier wingnuts are beginning to take bloggers seriously enough to threaten them with bogus legal action. Previously this sort of snit-fit was reserved for big guns like Michael Moore or Al Franken who were bringing their obnoxious views to a mass audience in defiance of the orders of right-wing pundits. In a perverse sort of way, I suppose you could see this as blogging’s coming-of-age. Major Barbara of Arms and the Man (a must-read blog if ever there was one) puts blogging itself into historical perspective. S/he writes:
Upton’s letter to Atrios is a very serious threat, to each and every one of us. Anonymous tracts helped create this country, and blogs are today’s pamphlets. Tom Paine and Ben Franklin deserved no more freedom in the 18th century than bloggers do today.
Well, *blushing to be put in the same league with Tom and Ben* s/he makes a good point there. That’s what blogging is about and what drew me to it. It’s the one place in our corporate-media-controlled environment which they don’t yet own, and which is wide enough and deep enough and open enough to encompass anybody who can afford to be online–a minimal expense in today’s economy (let’s face it, if I can afford it, almost anybody can)–and has something worth saying. It’s hard to get heard, of course–Technocrati tracks over a million blogs, including Omnium–but it’s possible. Which, aside from getting a letter-to-the-editor published in your local newspaper, is more than you can say for the rest of the corporate-controlled outlets.
What Luskin’s hissy-fit shows is that with some success in getting your message out comes interest from the P’s-That-B and opposition wingnuts in stopping you. These are not exactly rational or tolerant folk we’re dealing with. Ann Coulter thinks that anybody who disagrees with her should be taken behind her upscale hair salon and shot; Tom Delay thinks anybody who disagrees with him is ipso facto an enemy of America; and Dick Cheney thinks that if someone disagrees with him it’s de jure proof that they’re insane. A lot of the far right-wing is, shall we say?, awfully, maybe overly, sensitive to opposition. Digby puts it in a nutshell:
When, exactly, did the right wing become such a bunch of lame-assed pussies, anyway? These are the big, bad motherfuckers who are going to run the world? If this is any indication of how they take a punch, Jenna Bush had better get used to wearing a burka, because Osama bin Laden is going to be sitting in the White House within the next decade.The whining, the crying, the wringing of the hands about “political hate speech,” the law suits over hurt feelings, running away from interviews with a 5’2″ woman because she was “aggressive,” snivelling about “leftist homophobia” for making fun of the simpering drooling over Bush’s “masculinity” — it’s all so pathetic.
We’ve got nothing to worry about folks. Limbaugh’s in rehab because he couldn’t take the pain and had to hide his illegal “little blue babies” under the bed so his meanie of a wife wouldn’t get all mad at him, Bennett spent years furtively cowering behind the “Beverly Hillbillies” video poker machine at the Mirage so that nobody would recognize him, Coulter’s having little temper tantrums on national TV because she’s not being “treated fairly,” and Junior travels with his own special pillow and can’t even give up his favowit, widdle butterscotch candies for longer than an hour and a half.
All codpiece, no filling.
But that’s not necessarily something to laugh off. We can now because we can afford to, and that’s where the more serious issue arises.
What the Bushies and their Norquist-wing allies are essentially trying to do to the legal system is pack it with judges who would support nuisance suits like Luskin’s when they come from the right and are aimed against the left but throw them out of court without a hearing if the direction is reversed. They want a judiciary so slanted and so far to the right that they will never again have to suffer the slings and arrows of criticism without the healing balm of legally-exacted revenge to salve their bruised and battered egos.
Look at the kind of people they’ve been trying to pack the Federal bench with if you doubt it. In every case, they’ve chosen judges who have made decisions contrary to law whenever they had to to protect conservative interests, judges whose decisions prove that their ideological beliefs trump their belief in the rule of law to the point that one begins to get the impression that they think “the rule of law” is nothing but a minor inconvenience they can ignore whenever they feel like it. If the ultra-conservatives were to succeed in what they’re trying to do to the courts, Luskin’s threat would not only be real, it would be very, very dangerous.
That we can still laugh this off is largely due to the courageous work–much less heralded than it should be–of the Democrats in Congress who have managed, despite the way the majority treats the minority (the so-called “Energy Bill” was written entirely by Republicans in committee, and the committee leadership allowed only 2 Democrats to “observe”, forbidding them from speaking on pain of expulsion), to block these anti-democratic appointments through sustained and co-ordinated use of the filibuster.
I have been–and will no doubt continue to be–as critical of weak (when it isn’t non-existent) Democratic opposition in other areas as I think necessary, but nobody can fault their unsung heroism in stopping these heinous imperial judicial appointments for 2 solid years. If they accomplish nothing else (and they may not the way they’re going), this alone makes them worthy of our admiration and respect.
PS. If I haven’t made it clear, Atrios had every right to post what he did and Luskin is a creepy little stalker and a monument to fruitcakes everywhere. End of story.
1. Edited for flattery