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November 08, 2005

I'm suing BitchPhD cause her blog keeps flipping me off

Those of you with little patience for stupid inter-blog squabbles can safely skip this one.

If you spend very much time as a left activist, you soon hear far more stories like the ones I detail in this post than is really comfortable.

By the time I wrote this brief reply to a Usenet poster, I had not only heard the stories, I had gotten a few death threats myself. So when the person at whom I laughed responded by writing an email of complaint to my employer – copied to a number of people at Earth Island - I did not take it seriously, despite being subjected to a long meeting in which I had to explain to my supervisor what Usenet was and what a disclaimer was and, I think, what email was.

It was a serious annoyance for a day or so, but my employers knew that a life lived in the public eye is likely to earn one a detractor or two. Eventually, my antagonist's habit of complaining to employers backfired on him, and he was forced to resign in disgrace from a volunteer position at an environmental organization as a result. And I wish him well: there are far worse things out there than his little pecadillos, like conservatives threatening progressive activists with injury or death.

Which is why, despite the fact that I disagree with almost everything Paul Deignan espouses, I winced when I saw him react to a similar situation by going off the deep end.

PZ has one of the better summaries of the situation so far. But for those with limited ability to click links, Deignan challenged a number of feminist bloggers to a debate on Alito and abortion rights. One of the bloggers, Bitch, PhD, refused somewhat impatiently. (I don't blame her: I found the terms of Deignan's challenge rather appallingly jejune.) There followed what was apparently a heated conversation in her comments. I don't know for sure: many of the comments at issue have been deleted. One commenter in the thread, Wallace Hettle at the University of Northern Iowa, complained to Deignan's PhD advisors at Purdue about his conduct. Deignan is now threatening to sue Hettle for libel, as well as for allegedly damaging his career and future earnings. What's more, Deignan is not only threatening to sue Dr. B. as well, but to reveal her real-life identity on his blog and elsewhere.

Let me stipulate one thing right up front: it appears that Hettle is a jerk. Contacting Deignan's advisors was petty and vindictive, and as far as I'm concerned it constituted harassment. If Deignan's conduct was threatening, the proper people to notify would be the police. As it is, Hettle has caused trouble for someone he claims to admire. I won't speak for Dr. B., but if Hettle had pulled that shit in response to a comment thread here, I'd be furious at him. Who needs friends like that?

[Update: to be fair, it seems that Hettle may have done so because he interpreted an email from Deignan as "threatening." Still, the proper venue for the complaint would have been the police.]

But I'll also tell you that if I were a person's PhD advisor, and if my charge with regard to my advisee extended beyond the margins of his or her dissertation, you had better believe I would be reading that person's blog, as well as their comments on others' blogs, and in general trying to find out more information about my charge. Not with regard to his or her political beliefs, of course, unless they were germane to the field of study at hand, but with regard to the candidate's professional and personal conduct. Would the candidate bring credit to the institution? Would he or she react to criticism in a professional manner? It may be an unfair judgment on my part that Deignan is very bad at accepting criticism without going off the deep end. But that is the judgment that one reaches on reading his reaction to the whole affair.

I am quite sympathetic, given my similar experience, with the complaint that Hettle has potentially hurt Deignan's employability. I don't think there's much to worry about there, but I understand the discomfort. But put yourself in the shoes of a prospective employer faced with Paul Deignan's résumé. You Google him, click over to his blog, and find that he 1) is litigious and 2) willing to reveal confidential information when he gets upset. Would you hire him?

No? Maybe that's an unfair judgment too. But how many prospective employers are gonna push past that first impression? Of those who do, how many will get past the appearance of extortion in this little phrase addressed to Hettle?

Remember, if I sue you, I sue your friend. It's a twofer (like Bill and Hill).

Deignan is tossing his own reputation into the toilet. Sad, really.

Personally, I needed the reminder not to take this kind of stuff too seriously. There's always actual threats to get upset about.

Posted by Chris Clarke at November 8, 2005 03:18 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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i guess those are the two points that i find so distasteful about the tiny tempest: a litigious bent, and the desire to punish by "outing" someone who wishes to be anonymous.

Posted by: kathy a at November 8, 2005 06:19 PM
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having just read the post and comment thread at bitch,phd and the post and comments about the situation at deignan's blog, i agree with your assessment, which seems to be that deignan is marginally more offensive than hettle. having gone a bit overboard right here in comments on your blog, i know how easy it is to get overly excited and type out intemperate comments. i think you yourself have been involved in, uh, vigorous debates.

the post and discussion at bitch, phd's place was quite interesting, to me at least, and mostly went well in spite of some weirdness. i'm stayin' over here tho, to say anything about it.

Posted by: dread pirate roberts at November 8, 2005 07:15 PM
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I'm so sick of people throwing shit fits about blog slights. A friend of mine had the threat of a lawsuit waggled at her because someone reading her anonymously blogged posts in which she used fake names figured out she was being blog gossiped about. On a personal blog with, like, ten readers. Dude, it's a blog. Fucking deal.

Posted by: Hissy Cat at November 8, 2005 09:14 PM
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Well summarized Chris. My thoughts upon reading your synopsis went back to one of your posts awhile back about blogging anonymously vs. using a 'real' name. This is the strongest argument for anonymity.
I don't want to be on either side of this stupid situation caused by someone (or more than one persons) who can't tolerate a freakin' blog argument. I do not trust my supervisors to be fair when some insipid Deignan spouts off about me.

Posted by: TroutGrrrl at November 8, 2005 09:33 PM
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I can't figure out how this made Paul's list of rabid lefty posts about his frivolous lawsuit. My comments, sure. This is nicer than he deserves.

Posted by: piny at November 9, 2005 03:51 PM
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Huh - he took off the link to this site.

I have to say, this is all really entertaining, in a rubbernecking sort of way.

Posted by: Mike Anderson at November 9, 2005 04:22 PM
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"Still, the proper venue for the complaint would have been the police."

I think Hettle was trying to be nice and avoid that, it seems to have backfired.

Posted by: Mr Buttle at November 9, 2005 04:57 PM
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Heh. Looks like he's afraid you'll sue.

Posted by: piny at November 9, 2005 05:58 PM
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"You Google him, click over to his blog, and find that he 1) is litigious and 2) willing to reveal confidential information when he gets upset. Would you hire him?"

And now, ironically, in one of today's posts he claims the "libel" might hurt his chances of getting a defense sector job with security clearance.

Posted by: JDC at November 10, 2005 11:18 AM
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Well, my only direct comment on Mr. Deignan is that I'm rather surprised that any grad student, let alone a grad student with three children, would have the time to devote to this nonsense, let alone to the obsessive degree evidenced in Mr. Deignan's case.

When I was in grad school, trying to finish my dissertation, I didn't have that kind of free time, and I was single and not a parent, and had minimal personal responsibilities outside of my doctoral work. So I'm guessing that either (a) he's got way too much free time on his hands (meaning he's not doing the work he needs to be doing) or (b) he's setting aside things relating to his work or his family in order to pursue this weird little vendetta.

Says something about the man's priorities, doesn't it?

Posted by: Rana at November 10, 2005 02:34 PM
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One: Northern Iowa has a university?

Two: Jerks online tend to be jerks in real life also. Betcha a buck his advisors already knew he was an asshole.

Posted by: KathyF at November 11, 2005 03:18 PM
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There is an individual using the e-mail:

that has sent a threatening letter to my wife at work. Please search your records for this individual immediately.

I am concerned that he/she may pose a threat.


Posted by: Paul Deignan at November 11, 2005 08:19 PM
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that's obviously a spoofed email address.

Posted by: craig at November 11, 2005 10:59 PM
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This is really funny. A textbook example of what happens when someone gets pissed and forgets to engage their brain.

Two minutes ago, I didn't know that Paul Deignan is an asshole.

(Think before you sue, Paul)

Posted by: Tortoise at November 14, 2005 10:27 AM
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