Two days ago, I posted a satirical story that detailed Bernard Berrian’s Twitter exchange with Minnesota state representative John Kriesel, a double-amputee veteran of the Iraq war. It didn’t make fun of Berrian; it was more critical of the way some media outlets blew the exchange out of proportion. I would link to it, except we’ve removed the post due to the threat of legal action.
How did our First Amendment right to free speech and satire get quashed? Well, that’s easy: we don’t have the sort of legal funds that can handle a frivolous lawsuit, so we pulled the post instead of standing up for our constitutional rights and getting sued for the trouble.
Here’s how it went down: before getting the cease-and-desist from from Berrian’s legal team, we received an email from Lindsey Deierling, VP of Publicity at EAG Sports (twitter page here). I won’t reprint her email here for legal reasons, but there was a lot of talk of “defamatory” and “damaging to his public image” and “negative perception” and a misunderstanding of the word “slander.” (Note to Lindsey: slander is spoken; libel is written.)
I thought there was a better solution than pulling the post, so I attempted to reason with Berrian’s team, even offering to donate KSK’s ad dollars to the charity of his choice. Here’s the email I sent to Deierling:
My name is Matt Ufford, and I write under the nom de plume Captain Caveman at Kissing Suzy Kolber, although I haven’t used that alias anonymously in over five years. I’m responsible for the post that offended your client. If I may, I’d ask that we talk about this as reasonable human beings before we get lawyers involved and everybody on both sides hates everyone else.
Before we get into the ugly business at hand, I’d like to tell you a little about myself, so that we can feel we know each other a little bit. I’m 33 years old, and I just got engaged. Before I was a blogger, I was a Marine Corps officer who was decorated in combat for leading a tank platoon in the initial assault of Baghdad in 2003. (It seems like Mr. Berrian is meeting a lot of vets these days.) I recently raised $34,000 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides benefits and scholarships to the families of wounded and deceased special ops servicemen. I am not the stereotypical angry, anonymous blogger. I would like to make the world a better place, and my primary tactic for that is to try to make people laugh. That was my intent with the post that offended your client.
If I can cut to the chase, my post about your client was “highly inaccurate” because it is very obviously satire and part of my freedom of speech protected under the First Amendment. Frankly, I find it hard to believe that anyone would sincerely believe that the Pope and the Dalai Lama and a puppy would tweet your client. Lindsey, somewhere deep below your hard PR exterior is a human being, and that human knows that puppies can’t read or write or use Twitter. In all seriousness and good faith, my post targeted NOT your client, but the way that the media blew Mr. Berrian’s Twitter exchange with John Kriesel out of proportion.
However, even though I think your effort to remove the post is preposterous strong-arming that spits on the Bill of Rights, I’m also a reasonable man. Therefore, as an act of good faith, I have edited the post and provided a clarification that states in bold, capital letters that I created the fake tweets in Photoshop for the purpose of satire. Regarding your vague threat that “every additional web hit that occurs on this story from hereon further will be deemed a singular action,” I suggest that any and all ad dollars on that story from this moment further go to the charity of Mr. Berrian’s choice.
In addition to this gesture, I invite Mr. Berrian to write his own response and/or clarification and/or satire of Kissing Suzy Kolber, and I will happily publish it on KSK without edits or caveats, save an introduction to state the purpose and author. Should your client choose to do this, it’s likely that he will be celebrated by an Internet community that most recently flamed him for his sharp words to a disabled combat veteran.
In the event that this is unsatisfactory to your client, and you and I can’t talk like reasonable human beings with imperfect jobs, then I will likely bend to the will of Mr. Berrian’s legal team. If he’s truly determined to remove my satirical piece from the Internet, then I will oblige him. But I can’t help but wonder: aren’t people going to start asking why Bernard Berrian keeps telling veterans to shut up?
Sadly, the response I received was from Lindsey the PR drone, and not Lindsey the human. Her email reply to the above maintained the demands of the original email, and flat-out ignored my offer to raise money for charity, help Berrian’s image, or address the unlikelihood of golden retriever puppies criticizing Berrian’s woeful on-field performance. She also didn’t offer me anything resembling congratulations on my engagement. Who does that?
I’m not going to say anything negative about Berrian here. I just find it baffling that a starting wide receiver in the NFL would knowledgeably move forward with frivolous legal action against an Iraq veteran just days after telling a vet in a wheelchair to sit down and shut up. We could have had a laugh and raised some money for whichever charity he wanted. Instead, I’m going to hate Bernard Berrian forever.
I’ll see you on the fantasy football waiver wires, Bernard.