SLAPP Threats Don't Even Need To Become Lawsuits To Be Effective: Cop Gets Columnist Fired For Pointing To Picture Of Him With Racists

from the slapp'd dept

A few weeks ago, we wrote about a troubling SLAPP lawsuit in Charlottesville, Virginia against a local independent paper, C-Ville, and a UVA history professor. That post mostly focused on the lawsuit against the history professor, Jalane Schmidt, and the ACLU’s decision to defend her in the lawsuit. We didn’t have much information for how C-Ville itself is dealing with the SLAPP suit. However, given its response to another SLAPP threat, it appears that C-Ville is mostly caving.

Back in May, Molly Conger, an opinion columnist for C-Ville, who built up her reputation by reporting on local racists and what they’re up to, wrote an opinion piece merely highlighting the fact that a Charlottesville police officer, Logan Woodzell, who had just been promoted, had also been seen in a photo passed around on social media “posing with James Napier of the neo-Confederate group the Hiwaymen and Tammy Lee of American Freedom Keepers (one of the militia groups sued by the city for its involvement in Unite the Right).”

Nothing in the column calls Woodzell a racist. She just raises questions about the process by which Woodzell was given a promotion, as well as gives her opinion that the promotion shows “poor judgment” and “a disregard for the concerns of a community.” Nothing in any of that is remotely defamatory. It’s either a clearly factual statement (the photo exists and had been shared on social media) or opinion about what it showed concerning the Chartolttesville police force and its police chief, RaShall Brackney. Indeed, Woodzell is barely mentioned beyond the opening of the piece.

However, according to a Twitter thread from Conger, a lawyer from the local police union then threatened the paper over the piece — leading C-Ville to cave and end Conger’s relationship with the paper. Here’s a lightly edited transcript of Conger’s tweet thread:

Earlier this year, I had a short-lived opinion column covering city politics (a subject I am very passionate about!) in a local weekly paper. It quietly disappeared two months ago. My relationship with cville weekly came to an end after the attorney for the police benevolent society, representing an individual officer in this case, threatened to sue both me and the paper. Specifically, the cop?s lawyer claimed I had defamed her client in this piece. I don?t know how I could possibly have been clearer. At no point have I ever claimed this individual police officer personally holds white supremacist views. I explicitly said that I do not allege anything of the kind.

What I wrote and what I will continue to say is that the Charlottesville police department has been in absolutely no way held accountable for their inaction two years ago today. The image of a Charlottesville police officer with his arm around members of a white supremacist militia is a perfect illustration of a department choosing over & over to ignore the community it serves. It?s a picture of willful ignorance and complicity. Of harm through inaction.

I?m not surprised a police officer and a former prosecutor would try to weaponize the legal process to silence a critic. I am surprised that the paper reacted with such incredible cowardice. The threat itself was just that. A threat. From a bully. It is not an actionable legal claim, it?s an empty threat from a bully.

Conger writes some more after that, and it’s worth reading, but the crux of it was that a police officer, backed with a lawyer from his union, appears to have threatened a publication for writing a factual article that portrays the officer in a way he didn’t like. And the paper ended that writer’s column. That’s cowardice.

But it also shows why these kinds of SLAPP threats are so common, even if they don’t end up as lawsuits directly. They’re quite frequently effective.

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Comments on “SLAPP Threats Don't Even Need To Become Lawsuits To Be Effective: Cop Gets Columnist Fired For Pointing To Picture Of Him With Racists”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Not so much reporters as parrots

Well, with the paper having now tanked it’s reputation and credibility for reporting on anything of importance that anyone with power might object to I look forward to their future business of running nothing but advertisements/puff pieces for whoever throws them enough money, as they certainly can no longer be trusted to do anything more than that.

Seriously, they not only pulled the article but fired the reporter over nothing more than a threat? That is beyond pathetic at best, if not an indicator that those running the paper were just looking for an excuse to get rid of the article and writer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not so much reporters as parrots

I look forward to their future business of running nothing but advertisements/puff pieces for whoever throws them enough money, as they certainly can no longer be trusted to do anything more than that.

Sadly, that just about describes most small weekly newspapers. If most of their funding is from ad revenue, they don’t want to offend the advertiser. SLAPP only worsens what is a long-running existing problem.

R,ogs/s says:

Re: Not so much reporters as parrots

running nothing but advertisements/puff pieces for whoever throws them enough money

In case you havent heard, thats what actual print journalism in small town papers like the Patch, etc. IS all over the US, and thats what it has been for many decades.

Corpirate media, and the associated Mockingbird outlets long ago consumed genuine reporting and real news.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Threats are a form of impotence. That this paper would cave to a mere threat rather than an actual lawsuit being served makes them even more impotent. I mean, I can understand not wanting to spend money fighting a SLAPP action — even one as obvious as this. But at some point, financial concerns must take a backseat to integrity.

Maybe C-Ville can live on without a metaphorical spine. Whether it should live on when its editorial independence and willingness to tackle tough issues have clearly been compromised by a legal threat from the police, on the other hand…

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It is a small weekly paper. It is possible that just asking a lawyer a few questions might break them financially. To some extent, the ‘metaphorical spine’ has to be supported with financial wherewithal, and it isn’t a lack of integrity to not have money.

Though they could ask their community for some additional support, but that assumes they have a large enough circulation, in a demographically rich enough environment, to make that a reasonable ask.

michael (profile) says:

Re: Comments

Funny how all of the people who rant that tech companies have the right to determine what they publish are now upset that this newspaper determined what it wanted to publish.

Nothing here is about a newspaper publishing (or not) what it wants to publish. Your local community college probably offers reading lessons to the handicapped at a discount. Please look into it.

And that a shakedown by a police union is somehow different than a shakedown by any number of social justice extortionists.

But you can’t actually include any examples.

Two sentences; two examples of your lack of intelligence.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


Funny how all of the people who rant that tech companies have the right to determine what they publish are now upset that this newspaper determined what it wanted to publish.

I’m not upset that the newspaper decided to stop publishing Molly Conger’s writing. I’m disappointed that it decided to do so only after a mere threat of a lawsuit that, in all likelihood, would never have gotten far.

a shakedown by a police union is somehow different than a shakedown by any number of social justice extortionists

What the fuck is a “social justice extortionist”?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Comments

Your reading comprehension sucks.

Funny how all of the people who rant that tech companies have the right to determine what they publish are now upset that this newspaper determined what it wanted to publish

This is quite a weird take. You might want to try again. Yes, they have every right to do so. No one is talking about creating a law that requires C-Ville to keep up her writing. However, we also have the right to criticize C-Ville for dumping her column based on a bogus, censorial legal threat. It is the same way that we have criticized social media platforms for removing content that we feel they shouldn’t have while recognizing they have the right to do so.

Do you honestly not comprehend the difference? Because if not, you’ve got serious problems.

And that a shakedown by a police union is somehow different than a shakedown by any number of social justice extortionists.

Can you point me to an example of a "social just extortionist" convincing a publication to fire someone based on a totally baseless legal threat from someone that person reported on? Because I think we’d be similarly concerned and would write a similar piece about it.

If not? Well, perhaps you’re just — what do you guys call it, again? — "virtue signalling" for your MAGA moron buddies about how you think you’re "owning the libs" when really you look like a confused, ignorant child.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Comments

"Funny how all of the people who rant that tech companies have the right to determine what they publish are now upset that this newspaper determined what it wanted to publish"

It’s not funny if you understand the actual arguments and how these are completely different situations, but you guys don’t seem interested in that level of understanding.

S,GOR says:

rubber /glue, plus partisan bias

Well, since most ACs arent up on the inner chamber back stabbing and smear campaigns led by ADLaccolytes in newsrooms, here is the case of Tavis Smiley, felled by the slings,and arrows of women who ensnared him in thigh games:

Baroque Goldstein says:

Re: Re: Re:2 have proven my point

Wow, your flag finger is bigger than your intellect.

And-what homophobia? Are you queer or something? My post was anti-you-as-dumbass, not you as one or another mutation of human genetic composition.

Were you triggered by the animal rights issue, or wut?

Ouchie, ouchie words! They hurtz my feelz! STOP MAKING SENSE(facts that rebut your echo chamber biases notwithstanding)!

And dont worry, Stone, some of us have lives outside this little echo chamber.

Flag away! Goose/goose, gander and all that.

Marvel Comics generic super hero says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Glowfinger

While many think that having an all powerful red hot glowing finger on one hand is,an awkward super power, I manage to use it quite creatively to relieve stress after fighting badwerdz on

Sadly, however, unlike NFL footballlers with brain damage, who have excellent healthcare, all I have is a box of SuperSized MaxiPads and a sore finger when my work-and related stress relief is complete.

I Love Cicadas says:

re: gerbils rights NOW!

Just this morning, I liberated a cicada that had become trapped in my hotels hallway( I live in an area that is under constant and chronic cicada sonic bombardment).

It was laying on its back, defeated by the long hallway, with only a small slot of a window at one end as an entry/exit point.
I imagined that little guy had been trapped there for a long time, bouncing off the walls.

So I pinched its wings between my thumb and forefinger, picked it up, and set it flying outside, as a rooster crowed.

It was uplifting to liberate the poor guy, trapped in that echo chamber.

If only gerbils could be set free…..

Meanwhile, it wasnt cicadas that caused health effects in Cuba, as I can testify that, while they are noisy, they dont cause brain damage, unlike echo chambers:

Baroque Goldstein says:

re: anti-static echo chambers

Yes, but do you realize that it gets even more Kafkaesque, and less anti-spastic, when we see even rabbis supporting Islamic terror financing, and working through college campuses targeting students?

“a Hillel rabbi is speaking out in support of an anti-Semitic Islamic extremist who raised money for Al Qaeda causes.”

…tsk tsk, Rabbi Gavriel!

S,GOR says:

Well, sometimez I walk the knifes edge, just to make a point about biases; and to highlight that I have no biases.

Other times, I try to imagine Captain Glowfinger actually learning from his/her/its mistakes, as they valiantly finger-bang the flag, pausing briefly to question dogma.

That would be a fun fantasy-fiction comic, sort of like Superman Bizarro world.

ROGSeriffic says:

Re: Re: RE:

define your terms, lodestar.

The shrooms/mescaline/ayahausca that your types take, or my straight rice wine, and hot spices, at the foot of the Himalayas, with a vaginarific Kwanyin at my doorstep?

After all, what your types imbibe is a schedule One nono, an after-effect of CIA/Zionazi social control memetics, while I just eat well, according to law, and local customs????

Molly Conger says:

And, thanks Mike, for cumming valiantly on my journalistic doorstep, to save me from (non-Jewish) WHITE racists!

You truly are a night in shining Armourall, cumming to my Emotional Rescue!

(fucking ovens and all….)

Poor lil Israelified Molly. So fuckable, but still ethno-involved, and obviously tribalized!

Not that cops dont suck-each other off in locker rooms, while Wagner plays on and on and on and… Howard Unruhs dillema, but please, please, please, just cum in my ASSSSSSS.


Mattress Girl (aka, your mother from another undercover)

Anonymous Coward says:

Wow, ROGS, calling you John Mayor really hit a sore spot didn’t it? Then again, if I got compared to a guy who licked the lead paint off his tin soldiers as a kid and t.y.p.e.d.o.u.t.a.l.l.h.i.s.w.o.r.d.s.w.i.t.h.w.r.o.n.g.p.u.n.c.t.u.a.t.i.o.n. I’d be pretty pissed too. Except not really. Why you think this is worth losing sleep over is beyond me.

Seriously though, you might want to have that Herrick’s disease checked out…

(R/OG,s) says:

Re: Re:

Huh? I know that was painful for you to type, so, take some more fentanyl.

But since Im bursting all your free speech illusions here, it might help you to know that I have NFI who John Mayor is????

This comment section is so insular, and stove piped in TDs mod room, that those inside jokes make no sense to the rest of your readership, or humanity for that matter.

In re: spelling errors/ punctuation, I presume you are talking about the J-script errors that intercede in my posts, and lead to bad phonetic results? Yeah, its a long story about “exploitation.”

And, maybe that I frequently write with only one finger, while balancing my device on an airplane wing, or while rapelling down mountains in remote places, etc.

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