I’m fairly certain you know how this famous Shakespearean line ends; if not, Google it. I am–with no small irony–misappropriating it for my own purposes.
I’d like to apologize for the fact that the delivery of our 17 March edition–Erin go bragh–was, for a few hours, postponed. It was my doing.
I had been receiving threatening emails from a Los Angeles attorney whose clients were displeased with a prominent story in that issue. We made some corrections online that were requested–corrections that we at the Valley Voice are ever only too happy to make–but the print copy had already been put to bed.
The attorney demanded a full retraction.
I told him that he surely could not expect me to squelch an edition of the paper merely on his say-so.
“That,” he replied, “is exactly what I expect.”
So I telephoned our distributor, asking him, as another attorney put it, “to take a coffee break.”
The next four hours or so were spent in fevered consultation with two attorneys on our end of the spectrum: Could they go after our personal assets and, more to the point, was there any actionable language in the article?
Anyone can sue anyone in our litigious culture, and not necessarily with justice as an aspiration. In our case, I surmised that any potential lawsuit would quite nakedly serve as a fulcrum to break us in that it could be quite lengthy–and therefore, obviously, expensive. Prohibitively so.
Now, the larger newspapers–especially those in corporate groups–can weather this sort of thing. I don’t imagine there are many papers the size of the Valley Voice that can. And the attorney threatening me knew that very well.
It was at this juncture that our secret weapon revealed himself. It was reassuring when one of the attorneys we consulted read the article and could find no actionable language, but it was quite satisfying–and we were grateful–when he offered to take the case.
So I telephoned our distributor, pulling the trigger.
If this hiccough caused a delay in anyone’s receiving the paper, I apologize. I was steering some treacherous shoals, the navigation of which required the four hours aforementioned, but I’m glad we got it out on the street.
True, this pause cost us money in terms of distributing–but I suppose this is the price of responsibility. I did not feel that I could just blithely publish without the benefit of counsel.
Still, I did deliberately send forth an article I knew to contain inaccuracies. These, however, were of a minor nature and, to my mind, tangential to the feature. Substantively, I yet believe the article merited publishing. The readers were given access to an important story and, if flawed, it was well written and true in a big-picture sense.
I have yet to receive anything in the mail from the Los Angeles attorney. And I hope never to. It may be that he shot his bolt at threat making, and it may be, conversely, that even now the legal wheels are being ground behind the scenes against us.
We’ll see. Two things are certain: We will continue to report on the story that apparently disjointed so many noses, and I will relay to the public any attempt–by anyone–to foil our free press.
Because it’s more than the fact that our newspaper is offered free to readers within our bailiwick. It’s more than the fact that we’re online–again, gratis–to readers in 89 countries and 35 US states and territories. Those with disjointed noses comprise a public entity, and it is our duty to report on such things. More than that, it’s our right.
If you don’t believe me, you can take it from the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
— Joseph Oldenbourg