Christian Broadcasting Network v. News Corpse

The Christian Broadcasting Network, home of The 700 Club, has notified News Corpse of a defamatory posting on this web site. I received an email from their legal team that included an attached letter (pdf) from Louis Isakoff, Vice President and General Counsel of Pat Robertson’s Regent University. Isakoff is representing Pat Robertson’s son (and CBN’s CEO), Gordon. The letter said in part:

“It has recently been brought to our attention that your internet site, newscorpse.com, has posted comments from Cheryl Spencer which are false, misleading, and defamatory. A copy of that post is included with this letter. The posting accused Mr. Robertson of adultery. Obviously this accusation is inaccurate.”

The letter goes on to demand that I “remove the posting immediately” to “avoid legal action” against me. The posting in question is over two years old and it did not address Robertson in any way. It was about the hiring of the late Tony Snow, former Fox News host and Bush press secretary, by CNN. The offending material was contained in a comment made by a reader. Cheryl Spencer, whom I do not know, made a comment, that I did not endorse, concerning Robertson’s marital fidelity. News Corpse, as an advocate for higher standards in the media, respects free speech and provides an open forum for opinion from all ideological perspectives.

CBN and Robertson are demonstrating a rare measure of sensitivity by bringing down the hammer on a small Internet publisher of opinion over an old article that didn’t even mention their client. Isakoff may be a Yale lawyer and the head of the legal division of a big university and media enterprise, but he is woefully uninformed on matters of new media publishing and free expression. Had he taken the time to research the matter, he would have quickly discovered that US Code Title 47, Chapter 5, Sub-Chapter II, Part I, § 230(c) provides immunity from any cause of action related to comments posted on blogs:

(1) Treatment of publisher or speaker
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

There is an abundance of case law affirming the protection for bloggers from lawsuits stemming from comments made by readers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Citizen Media Law Project have extensive documentation of this. And that protection even applies when a blogger is notified of an allegedly defamatory comment and declines to remove it.

I can’t say whether this misunderstanding of the law is typical of Regent University lawyers, but there are certainly curious circumstances associated with that crowd. The Bush administration hired some 150 of them, including White House counsel Monica Goodling, who took the fifth before a congressional committee investigating the potentially illegal firing of U.S. Attorneys by the Bushies for partisan political reasons. And the presence of 150 lawyers in the Bush Department of Justice from a single Christian law school that was less than thirty years old is startling and unprecedented.

I have no intention of removing the comment posted on my site. I believe that the demand by CBN is without merit and is deliberately intended to harass me and to stifle free expression. This sort of bullying tactic has a chilling effect on individuals and organizations who seek only to exercise their Constitutional rights and provide forums for others to do so as well. It’s disappointing to see a religious institution, who’s rights are protected by the very same Constitutional amendment, exploit their power by threatening innocent authors and publishers.

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15 thoughts on “Christian Broadcasting Network v. News Corpse

  1. I linked to that post, where I read the entry and the comments, and now I’m confused. Who is Gordon Robertson? Another person entirely, meaning Spencer didn’t accuse Pat himself of adultery? A simple mistake – somehow she got the name wrong – or possibly a derogatory reference to Pat, the basis of which is too obscure for me? Do you know which is the case (she meant Pat or she meant someone else), and ultimately, does the distinction even matter according to the rules and regulations regarding blogging you enumerated?

    Particularly since Obama’s election and a Democratic congressional majority, I believe I’ve observed a severe uptick in the number and level of, frankly, desperate attacks against all things liberal/progressive. Media Matters tracks these hopeless, insignificant criticisms (what Obama wore to the Gulf being the most recent and highly typical example) and highlights, when the other side lacks even the most pathetic material, sheer lies culled from nothing more than their bizarre imaginations. Apparently someone has decided to mine the old standby – trolling reader responses to tar the entire enterprise on which they appear as shameful and irresponsible, even if they have to inject nefarious intentions (into those comments) when none can reasonably be inferred.

    • uh oh. As I should have done in the first place, I googled Robertson and immediately learned that Gordon is indeed his first name. I suppose it’s anything but obscure, on the contrary is fairly common knowledge. Which means Spencer was referring to him, which means your bottom line remarks about bearing no accountability for someone else’s charges, substantiated or not, remain the salient point. Disregard the first paragraph, while the second one becomes a stand-alone.

  2. I heard it from someone who heard it from someone that Louis Isakoff is a radical socialist Muslim.

    “Sammy, you are NOT helping matters.”

    • Sammy, if I go down I’m taking you with me. ;-)

  3. The CBN is upset over “false misleading and defamatory” statements? WTF? So sellimg the pixie dust sprinkling sky fairy crap is true? I just can’t wrap my brain around their reasoning. I want to see J.C.s birth certificate!

  4. Well I wonder what he is afraid of? Makes him sound guilty of something. I mean Robertson is a common name and so is Gordon. If it walks like a duck maybe it’s a duck. Who does?

  5. So what — if anything — are you doing about it?

    • The ball is in their court. They threw me a cease and desist. I batted it back by declining to comply with their meritless complaint. They could either proceed to file suit against me or drop the whole thing.

      I’m betting they’ll drop it since they have no case, they can’t prove damages, and they’ll only succeed in producing more bad publicity for themselves. The law is on my side. I think they just took a shot to see if I would fold. Guess what?

      If I’m wrong, and they take me court, I’ll defend myself and the principles of free expression. There are plenty of resources available to fight this kind of bullying. The EFF, the CMLP, the ACLU, etc., provide pro bono assistance in these matters.

      I think it would be counterproductive for them to escalate this. But it might make me famous, whether I like it or not, so…..

  6. Did you formally decline to comply or just not respond? Good luck! I think you’re right: they probably will just fold. Still, it’s fun to fantasize….

    • I sent them this blog post in response to their email, and it says explicitly that, “I have no intention of removing the comment posted on my site.”

      We’ll see what happens. And if they proceed to litigation, you can be sure that I will post it here – and everywhere else in the known media universe that I can.

  7. Stick to your rights Mark,
    This is in essence a freedom of press issue.
    And like our discussion from yesterday about Acorn, the woman who posted the accusations should be the prosecuted not you, Right?

    As long as you keep posts contrary to your own point of view, you won’t be labeled a hypocrite. I doubt you will hear anything further from CBN, you called their bluff. I wouldn’t go on any shopping spree as I doubt they will be giving you any free advertising.

    BTW, where did those posts yesterday go about Acorn? Your search engine does not find replies by submitter. How can I find them?

      • Thanks Mark but, the last post is July 7, yesterday was July 8, is there another continued page I can’t find?

        • Well now they are back and the comment count changed from 8 to 15. Odd, but I guess that’s just life in cyberspace, Right?

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