Thursday, August 11, 2005

Be Careful When You Roast A Blogger : A Cautionary Tale

WARNING: this post contains language unsuitable for younger readers. Discretion is advised.

One of the pitfalls about high-speed Internet blogging is that you can e-mail a post without thinking of the consequences.

Case in point: Patrick Mitchell, of the firm Ogletree Deakins.

You probably haven't heard of Patrick Mitchell, but understand that he's one of those people who didn't like the way that super-pundit Michelle Malkin has been handling the Cindy Sheehan affair. (I say nothing about his political slant, since he's given no indication whatsoever of it, so while he may be sympathetic towards Mrs. Sheehan, we have no proof of it.)

Anyway, here is the complete and unabridged text of what he sent to Ms. Malkin:

YOU STINK you nasty CUNT! Eat Shit and DIE bitch!!

Well. I wouldn't exactly call this a scintillating contribution to the debate over Mrs. Sheehan.

But here's what makes this noteworthy: Ms. Malkin printed Mr. Mitchell's response as part of her blog entry -- along with the e-mail address that he used to send it. I don't propose to reproduce it here, for reasons that will soon become obvious.

Did Ms. Malkin have the right to reproduce Mr. Mitchell's e-mail address? There's no real rule against it; Mr. Mitchell was responding to a public post, and most bloghosting sites set their default rules so that anonymous postings aren't permitted.

But observe the following:

Mr. Mitchell sent his e-mail at 11:41 (I'm not sure of the time zone, but let's assume EDT).

Two hours and ten minutes later, Ms. Malkin received the following:

Dear Ms. Malkin,
I am the Managing Shareholder of the law firm of Ogletree Deakins with offices located across the country. I was very disturbed to learn today that a legal secretary in our Los Angeles office sent you the vile e-mail referenced on your home page. Such remarks are clearly inappropriate in any context and an e-mail such as this certainly should not have been sent during working time using our firm's equipment. The comments of this employee are not reflective of the views or opinions of the firm and are directly in violation of our e-mail policy. As Managing Shareholder, I wanted to extend to you our apologies and let you know that this serious violation of our firm's work rules has resulted in the discharge of this employee.
[The bolding is mine--VW.]

Once again, let me offer you our deepest apologies for any discomfort that the referenced e-mail has caused. It will not happen again.


Gray Geddie

There are always consequences when one sends an e-mail without thinking. In this case, sending an abusive e-mail can result in your getting fired from your job. Which is a bit awkward to explain in subsequent job interviews ("So, why did you leave your last job?" "Well, I kinda got snarky towards this really stupid blogger and ...").

Are there lessons to be learned from this? Yes, and not involving right- or left-wing politics:

1) If you're going to e-mail in response to a blog entry, and you're not representing your company, use your personal e-mail to do it. Only use your business e-mail for business-related communications.

2) E-mails to blogs are not privileged communications because the e-mail is meant to appear in public. It is the blogger's right to reproduce the comment, and to identify the commenter if (s)he thinks it's necessary. The blogger is under no obligation to protect you from your folly.

3) Using foul language is never a good idea, because the potential for blowback is far greater than the capacity to hurt a blogger's feelings. As Mr. Mitchell, formerly of the firm Ogletree Deakins, has just found out.

Right. Back to the debate ...