Bus Company Threatens To Sue College Newspaper Over Satirical Story

from the because-nothing-matters dept

What is it with college bus companies? For years we’ve covered the insanity of Suburban Express and its attacks on customers for criticizing the company, and now we have a story that impacts my own alma mater. Coach USA is a large bus holding company that runs a bunch of different bus companies, including ShortLine, which runs regular coach bus service between downstate New York and upstate New York, making it a popular option for students from the New York City metropolitan region going to college at Binghamton, Ithaca, Cornell, Albany or Elmira. It’s been around for quite some time — and like many college bus transportation services, the subject of jokes.

CU Nooz, a satirical news site that I’m pretty sure began its existence long after I left town, recently had a satirical article (which is basically all the site does) mocking the Shortline Bus. And Coach USA responded by sending an utterly ridiculous cease & desist letter.

The letter, obtained by The Sun and sent by Coach USA?s assistant general counsel, called the piece ?libelous? and threatened legal action if not pulled off of CU Nooz?s website. The article, originally entitled ?Student Spent Entirety of Fall Break on Shortline Bus? spoofed the travel experience of a fictional student on a nonexistent ShortLine route, saying that long bus journeys prevented her from spending time at home.

CU Nooz has responded by updating the article in question, so that its new title is:

UPDATE: Student Didn?t Spend Entirety of Fall Break on Shortline Bus, Because Shortline Sent Us Cease and Desist

Good job. It now includes an editor’s note up top:

Update: In response to receiving a cease and desist letter from Coach USA?s assistant general counsel demanding CU Nooz remove the ?libelous article concerning Shortline?s bus services as well as libelous comments attributed to representatives of Shortline?, this article has been updated to reflect that the student did not, in fact, spend the entirety of Fall Break on the Shortline Bus.

It also put in a bunch of strikethroughs and “edits” within the story, which is pretty funny in its own way:

>In what was supposed to be a quick long-weekend visit to friends and family back home, Kayla Gladstone ?22 spentDID NOT SPEND the entire duration of Fall Break on a Shortline service from Ithaca to Washington DC.

?As an experienced Shortline rider, I thought this would just be a quick 17-hour jouney home,? said Gladstone DIDN?T SAY. ?At least the charging port worked sometimes if I didn?t breathe too hard, and a few times when I was lucky the WiFi would even load the login page.?

Perhaps my favorite edit, is they stuck a “NONEXISTENT” before the word “route” to emphasize that the route in question didn’t even exist.

The original cease and desist was clearly ridiculous and censorial. Coach/ShortLine appears to have wasted money on lawyers who either gave them bad advice or still followed through on the bus company’s ridiculous demand to silence someone gently mocking them.

Even worse, according to the Cornell Daily Sun, Shortline’s execs acknowledge they understood it was satire, which basically is them admitting that they had absolutely no legal claim here in the first place. They can’t even plead that they had no sense of humor. Just that they’re assholes.

?Shortline understands that the article was satirical, but if anyone unknowingly was doing a search on ShortLine services and this article came up they would not see that it was fake news,? Hughes said.

That assumes that anyone doing a search would be too stupid to recognize satire. Either way, it’s long been established that parody/satire is not defamatory, and the company itself has now admitted its satire.

Incredibly, the only defense that Shortline gives in response to this was a manager there saying that the article “wasn’t funny to us.” Yeah, that’s not the standard for defamation, either.

While CU Nooz clearly did not need to change its article, it did so in a pretty hilarious way that drew more attention to the bullshit legal threat. Oh, and also, it looks like the site isn’t planning to let up either. It’s now published a new story called 8 Bus Companies We’d Rather be Sued by Than ShortLine.

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Companies: coach usa, cunooz, shortline

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Comments on “Bus Company Threatens To Sue College Newspaper Over Satirical Story”

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28 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

oddly, i don’t recall ever hearing of Coach USA until yesterday when i saw one of their tins-on-wheels on the highway. (also have never seen a bus built like a cheap toy before). i imagined they were probably one of those sorts of services, and a thought of Suburban Express even passed through my mind.

i guess i had a precognitive reaction to a sign. might have to get my own 1-800 line.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'Really though, we can see why people might be confused.'

“Shortline understands that the article was satirical, but if anyone unknowingly was doing a search on ShortLine services and this article came up they would not see that it was fake news,” Hughes said.

First of all, nice to see yet another case of ‘fake news = something I don’t like’, second of all to say that people might think it was real, how abysmal is their reputation that they think people would take gems like this as real and serious?

‘Besides the NONEXISTENT route’s scheduled stops in Allentown and Philadelphia and scheduled breakdowns in Scranton and Wilmington, after a minor misunderstanding the driver reportedly tookDID NOT TAKE a 1,340 mile detour to Toledo, Ohio, aN UNcommon mixup for many shortline routes. When asked for comment about the delays, aNO Shortline representative replied: ”Fuck you, we’re Shortline. That’s why.”’

Not only are they apparently utterly lacking in humor but I guess they also think that anyone who might be a prospective customer would have to be incredibly stupid and/or gullible to be interested in using their service, which is… not the best PR to say the least.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: 'Really though, we can see why people might be confused.'

First of all, nice to see yet another case of ‘fake news = something I don’t like’

Reading your quote, though, it’s possible they mean "fake news" as in satirical news à la SNL’s Weekend Update and The Daily Show, not "fake news" as in the way Trumpy uses it. Let’s see the quote:

“Shortline understands that the article was satirical, but if anyone unknowingly was doing a search on ShortLine services and this article came up they would not see that it was fake news,” Hughes said.

I usually don’t like being a lawyer for El Diablo, but it’s possible that that was the definition of "fake news" given the context in your quote.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: 'Really though, we can see why people might be confused.

I used to be a huge Daily Show fan and they legitimately did a lot of comical real news in between the fake news segments.

I got too occupied/distracted with other things to keep watching the show just before Jon Stewart retired but I saw nearly every Jon Stewart Daily Show before then.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

"but if anyone unknowingly was doing a search on ShortLine services and this article came up they would not see that it was fake news"

Wacky idea… take the money you paid the stupid lawyers & use it to improve your company a bit. Then there won’t be any horror stories online that people will stumble over.

Better idea… if your execs fear a bad review this badly, perhaps you need to starting auditing the books.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

John85851 (profile) says:

Disbar the lawyers

I’ve said this many times in many stories like this, but I think it’s time to disbar or sanction the lawyers who bring cases like this.
If the executives of the company knew it was satire, then the lawyers should have know they wouldn’t get very far in a lawsuit. And they should have known that threatening to sue a satirical site would lead to more negative coverage.

So why in the world did a lawyer send a cease and desist order? To get more billable hours? Then that means he’s putting his own income above the best interests of his client and above the ethical practice of the law.

So… what’s the name of the law firm? Is it time to name and shame them?

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