For those of you not familiar with the the Crystal Cox “bloggers are not journalists” case, it was a bit of a blogosphere kerfuffle when U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez ruled that Cox is not a journalist under the definition of Oregon’s Shield Law. A number of poorly-researched blog posts went up thereafter, with the blogosphere rallying behind her cause. After all, are bloggers not journalists? (Of course they are, but some are “not like us” says Simple Justice).
Unfortunately, not very many bloggers/journalists did their homework the first time around. They were sloppy. They read the simple version “Oregon Judge Says Bloggers are not Journalists” and lost their minds to rally around the cause. Had this actually been the case, the rally would have been for a good cause. Unfortunately, the rally was sloppy work by sloppy reporters.
Kashmir Hill, unsurprisingly, was not one of the sloppy ones. Her piece is here.
Kash summed it up well:
Yes, there are bloggers who are journalists. But just because you have a blog doesn’t mean that what you do is journalism.
The back story is this: Oregon attorney Kevin Padrick filed a defamation lawsuit against Crystal L. Cox, a “blogger” from Eureka, Montana (who, is now in Spokane, WA), who operated the website obsidianfinancesucks.com. On that site, she called out Obsidian Finance, LLC, of which Padrick is senior principal. Cox referred to Padrick as a “thug” and a “thief” and accused him of all sorts of conspiratorial wrongdoing. A jury awarded Obsidian Finance
$2.3 $2.5 million in damages—the amount of profits Padrick says his company lost as a result of the blog posts. She claimed to be a journalist, and thus entitled to protection under Oregon’s journalist shield law. The court rejected that claim. She moved for a new trial, and lost that motion yesterday. (Order here)
This is normally the kind of thing that raises my hackles. But, only Sith think in absolutes. And only a sloppy lawyer or sloppy blogger/journalist doesn’t do a little more research before making the call.
According to Kash, Padrick’s firm found that Cox had created nearly 2,000 websites used to write about other companies. Padrick then said that Cox attempted to offer her “PR and search engine services” in order to fix Obsidian Finance’s reputation. Sort of like a protection racket.
The message was clear. Shame about your messed up reputation. I can fix it for you. Never mind that I’m the one who messed it up.
Hernandez reasoned in his opinion that Cox did not qualify as a journalist. Go figure, given the fact that her writing is barely comprehensible. The only thing clear about it is that she does not seem to write as a journalist or an essayist, but more as an extortionist trying to hide among the bloggers.
In his most recent order, Hernandez lays it out:
In my discussion, I did not state that a person who “blogs” could never be considered “media.” I also did not state that to be considered “media,” one had to possess all or most of the characteristics I recited. Rather, I confined my conclusion to the record defendant created in this case and noted that defendant had presented no evidence as to any single one of the characteristics which would tend to establish oneself as a member of the “media.” In addition, the uncontroverted evidence at trial was that after receiving a demand to stop posting what plaintiffs believed to be false and defamatory material on several websites, including allegations that Padrick had committed tax fraud, defendant offered “PR,” “search engine management,” and online reputation repair services to Obsidian Finance, for a price of $2,500 per month. Ex. 33. The suggestion was that defendant offered to repair the very damage she caused for a small but tasteful monthly fee. This feature, along with the absence of other media features, led me to conclude that defendant was not media. (Op. at 13-14)
While many journalists are “off” in their own quirky way, any reasonable person viewing Cox’s conduct would conclude that it borders on derangement. Hernandez was right to draw a line, and where he drew it leaves plenty of room for even the most casual blogger to find protection. Hernandez’ decision does not say that bloggers are not journalists, it merely says that Crystal Cox is no journalist.
The blogosphere should come to the same conclusion. The Court’s decision does not require one to go to journalism school in order to be deemed a journalist. It does not require access to sophisticated and expensive research tools or news wires. Nor does it require writers to have advertisers, the backing of physically printed papers, or affiliation with sizable web portals like the Huffington Post to be considered journalists. All that is needed is some indicia that the writer discharges the normal duties of reporting – investigation and distribution.
Cox did none of these things. Therefore, Hernandez denied her the title of “journalist.”
What she did do was far worse. I should know.
Because she has tried to do the same thing to me that she did to Kevin Padrick.
Without my knowledge, consent or permission, Cox registered the domain name marcrandazza.com. Having learned a thing or two from losing a $2.5 million defamation case, she was slick about her stated rationale — claiming she did so to “control the search, and pr” on her case. (She initially asked me to handle the appeal on her case).
Initially, she registered the domain under someone else’s name, as she was trying to evade Kevin Padrick’s $2.5 million judgment. She wrote “ownership is well… a different story now due to my current judgment.”
Crystal cox “need[ed] to make money” so she asked me if I needed a “very good search engine reputation manager.” Apparently she offered these same dubious services to David Aman – counsel for Kevin Padrick and Obsidian Finance – and he accused her of extortion. I can’t imagine why.
Apparently I was not sufficiently threatened by this tactic, so Cox went on to register:
She also registered a great many Blogger accounts bearing my name, including markrandazza.blogger.com.
You know, just like a “journalist” would, right?
Fortunately for me, the work I do is not particularly sensitive to public perception – I am roundly criticized by both the political right and the left; copyright maximalists and minimalists, and every stripe of individual in-between. Fortunately, though, I have friends that understand who I am and what I stand for.
I understand that others’ personal and professional reputations may not be able to weather such a storm. Mine could, though, so I continued to ignore Cox.
Then, she pursued my family.
Crystal Cox registered JenniferRandazza.com.
She then registered jenniferrandazza.blogspot.com
You see a pattern here?
Jennifer is my wife.
When this didn’t get the desired response, Cox turned to a place where even the lowest of the low would not stoop — she focused her stalkerish attention on my three-year-old daughter and registered NataliaRandazza.com.
Just like a “journalist,” right?
Being three years old, Natalia naturally has no accomplishments to speak of. To date, she has drawn her father a bunch of “happys” (which is what she calls smiley faces), and this week, she started being able to read short words. “DORA” was the first word she read where the concept of letters, sounds, and words all came together. She can also tackle me when I’m on the floor, and she’s progressing well in her little girls’ dance class. While I find these accomplishments mind-blowing, she has attained no notoriety of which I am aware.
Yet Crystal Cox, “investigative blogger” has turned her attention to this innocent three year old.
This is the kind of person Crystal Cox is, and these are the depths she will sink to when one of her victims spurns her offers to do “search engine reputation management” for them. This is why she lost her case — not because Judge Hernandez has it in for bloggers.
Crystal Cox claims that David Aman, Plaintiff’s counsel in the Obsidian Finance case, accused her of extortion too. A real journalist, David Carr of the New York Times, exposed her conduct in this well-written piece.
The Internet has irreversibly changed the face of news reporting and journalism on the whole. Many bloggers produce better content than many small, local newspapers, and may even have superior resources. Regardless of size, bloggers who aspire to journalistic integrity, even if not completely reaching it, should and likely will receive the same protections as reporters if and when the day comes that they need to assert those rights.
In the short run, a “we’re all in this together” mentality among bloggers is appealing. In principle, I agree that the distinction between bloggers and journalists is thin, if it exists at all. But as uneducated extortionist stalkers like Cox try to wrap themselves in the cloak of journalistic privilege, an outraged public – the people who elect the judiciary in much of the country, and certainly vote for representatives who legislate press protections in certain states – will demand that lawmakers roll back these privileges from bloggers and traditional journalists alike. This is not a case where bloggers should be holding their nose to protect the rights of an unpopular speaker like Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, or Andrea Dworkin. Here, a bad apple must be kept out of the cart, before it spoils the entire crop. Judge Hernandez’ opinion “has done real journalists a favor,” says David Coursey at Forbes. I agree.
I considered keeping my mouth shut about this idiot. The old maxim says not to wrestle in the mud with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.
When she wrote about me, trying to do to me what she did to Kevin Padrick, the blogosphere proved that the cure for bad speech is more speech. Rather, a lot of people proved that maxim, by writing what they thought of me. Fortunately, I had a large enough public reputation and the Google juice to withstand her attacks.
Kevin Padrick didn’t have that luxury.
Other people won’t have that luxury.
My three year old daughter doesn’t have that luxury.
I don’t now wrestle with Crystal Cox because I care about her insane, grammatically challenged and barely literate scrawling. Anyone who reads it universally reacts by calling it “batshit crazy.” I don’t need to defend myself against the likes of her.
I wrestle with her now because I realized that I have a responsibility to. When she attacked me, it had no effect. Then she turned to my innocent wife. Then she turned to my even more innocent three year old daughter. Then, I realized that there were other innocent people out there who she tried to extort, harm, and smear. Some of them contacted me. I needed to speak up for them.
I realized then, thanks to Natalia, that even if I had to wrestle with a pig, I had to do it before Cox causes harm to anyone else. The reason she was able to do what she did to Kevin Padrick was, in part, because nobody had pushed back and put a spotlight on her behavior before. Her loss in the District of Oregon, and the sloppy blogging about the case elevated her credibility.
She needs to be exposed, and bloggers need to reject her.
There is no doubt that the blogging community needs as many protections as it can get, and I believe many bloggers who I read, talk to and work with would qualify for protection under Oregon’s shield statute. Crystal Cox did not, does not, and cannot advance this goal. If the blogging community wishes to stand among those with the title of “journalist,” then it must reject people like Crystal Cox, and relegate them to their own bizarre, obsessive and child-targeting corner of the Internet.
She is not one of us.
She harms us.
UPDATE: If there is any doubt, Stephanie Studebaker-DeYoung (an apparent acquaintance of Cox’s) had this to say about her:
Studebaker-DeYoung was Cox’s main source of information in her attacks against Kevin Padrick.