Blood Elves and Blogwars

By Legal Eagle

I hadn’t come across conservative US shock jock Glenn Beck until an anonymous prankster started up a site called glennbeckrapedandmurderedayounggirlin1990.com. Beck is now suing the originator of the site, so of course I’m interested now.

Some background first. Beck doesn’t sound like he’d be my cup of tea. An article in Time magazine in July this year describes Beck and his show thusly:

The new populist superstar of Fox News has made a refrain of predicting that government policies are leading to disaster — dark, ruinous, blood-in-the-streets kind of disaster…

…His hook, for the age of economic anxiety: …Beck embraces fear. …
Fear of what? Take your pick. Fear that the U.S. is on a long march to fascism. (As evidence, Beck cited — on April Fools’ Day but apparently seriously — the inclusion of fasces on the Mercury dime in 1916.) That fat cats and bureaucratic “bloodsuckers” are plundering your future. That Mexico will collapse and chaos will pour over the border. That America believes too little in God and too much in global warming. That “they” — Big Government, Big Business, Big Media — are against you. Above all, that you, small-town, small-business America — Palinville — have been forgotten. Dismissed. Laughed at. Just like him.

It’s hard to identify a Beck ideology so much as a set of attitudes, sometimes contradictory ones. He channels anger against Wall Street but defends the bonuses for AIG executives. He devoted a segment to debunking a conspiracy theory about FEMA “concentration camps” but has warned that the AmeriCorps program “indoctrinates your child into community service.”

What unites Beck’s disparate themes is a sense of siege. On March 13, he served up a kind of fear combo platter — war, chaos, totalitarianism, financial ruin — with the 9/12 Project, a tearful call to viewers to rediscover the common purpose they felt after 9/11. In 2001, that common purpose involved cable-news talkers’ dialing down the us-vs.-them shtick for a day or two; now Beck urged viewers to reject the notion that “they” have all the power. “They don’t surround us,” he declared. “We surround them.”

As an aside, I really can’t stand fear as the driving force behind an argument; it leads to irrationality. I don’t care what side of politics someone is on. It just repels me. However, it seems that Beck has tapped into something that resonates with viewers, and he has been phenomenally successful.

Have you ever had one of those experiences where when a person says, “I don’t mean to be offensive, but…” Usually I think people who say this do mean to be offensive, but they’re trying to defuse any angry reaction, so that they can protest: “Hey, I didn’t mean to be offensive, I already told you that!”

Beck has created controversy with some of his questions for a similar reason. In an interview with Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison, Beck asked:

I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, “Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.”

And I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy, but that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.

Beck conceded that it was a “poorly-worded question” subsequently.

Furore later arose over a comment on Fox & Friends morning show, where Beck said, “I’m not saying [Obama] doesn’t like white people. He has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist.”

You get the picture.

After a discussion on Fark.com (riffing off a comedy sketch by Gilbert Gottfried parodying Beck’s shock jock technique), some bright spark decided to start the site I mentioned at the start of this post. The introduction says:

This site exists to try and help examine the vicious rumour that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990. We don’t claim to know the truth — only that the rumour floating around saying that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990 should be discussed. So we’re going to do our part to try and help get to the bottom of this.

Why won’t Glenn Beck deny these allegations? We’re not accusing Glenn Beck of raping and murdering a young girl in 1990 – in fact, we think he didn’t! But we can’t help but wonder, since he has failed to deny these horrible allegations. Why won’t he deny that he raped and killed a young girl in 1990?

The note at the bottom of the site says:

Notice: This site is parody/satire. We assume Glenn Beck did not rape and murder a young girl in 1990, although we haven’t yet seen proof that he didn’t. But we think Glenn Beck definitely uses tactics like this to spread lies and misinformation.

Read the last sentence again. That’s the point. Read it a third time and ignore the name of the site itself, because anyone who believes that we’re trying to actually get people to believe Glenn Beck raped and/or murdered is *whoosh* missing the entire point. So don’t be dumb like a lot of people are. I greatly expanded this text because so many people *read* it, and *still* didn’t understand.

{By the way: you’re probably still wondering how blood elves come into this post. Be patient. They’re coming.}

Anyway, the site went live on 1 September, and according to Ars Technica, it took until 3 days for legal proceedings to be issued against the then-anonymous operator.

Interestingly, Beck issued his claim through the domain name dispute procedures instituted by WIPO. The First Amendment to the US Constitution protects freedom of speech so that may be why he’s chosen not to pursue his action in the US. Beck’s claims are threefold:

  • That the domain name incorporates Beck’s trademark in his own name, and is confusingly similar to his trademarks;
  • That the owner of the domain name has no legitimate rights or interest in it;
  • That the domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.

As Ars Technica has reported, the owner of the site has “outed” himself and his lawyer, Marc Randazza, has filed a Response to Beck’s claim. It’s worth reading, as it’s pretty funny in itself. First:

There is no indication that the Respondent has intentionally attempted to confuse anyone searching for Mr. Beck’s own website, nor that anyone was unintentionally confused – even initially. Only an abject imbecile could believe that the domain name would have any connection to the Complainant.

We are not here because the domain name could cause confusion. We do not have a declaration from the president of the international association of imbeciles that his members are blankly staring at the Respondent’s website wondering “where did all the race baiting content go?” We are here because Mr. Beck wants Respondent’s website shut down. He wants it shut down because Respondent’s website makes a poignant and accurate satirical critique of Mr. Beck by parodying Beck’s very rhetorical style. Beck’s skin is too thin to take the criticism, so  he wants the site down. [emphasis added]

But then the Response seeks to explain the phenomenon of the Internet meme, using some specific examples:

For example, the director of the movie “Downfall” is likely baffled at the Internet meme that has grown from that film. At the end of the film, there is a dramatic scene depicting Adolf Hitler’s inner circle breaking the news to him that the war is lost. As Hitler pounds the table, the actual dialogue from the movie depicts his frustration with the impending end. However, amateur editors have turned the English subtitles from that scene into a humorous meme, changing the dialogue to Hitler being angry about countless disappointments. See, e.g., Hitler finds out the truth about Santa, Hitler hates Kanye West, and Hitler gets banned from World of Warcraft. Nobody believes that the director of the critically acclaimed “Downfall” would have directed a script in which Hitler screams “YOU HOMOSEXUAL BLOOD ELF!”

(If you want to know more about the Hitler video meme series, read some summaries here. It’s wrong, oh so wrong, but I just couldn’t help laughing. Unfortunately, the homosexual blood elf video has been taken from YouTube for copyright reasons.)

Back to Beck and the satirical site. I will be interested to see what happens to this site. I think that there’s not much chance of success in the WIPO claim.

But if Beck decides to pursue a defamation claim in the US, that might be an entirely different picture. In the Ars Technica piece from 9 September, US lawyers are equally divided as to whether this could be defamatory or not. Personally, I think they might have skated a bit too close to the edge here. As we’ve explained in our Defamation for Dummies post, defamation will be made out where false statements are communicated about a person to others, and these statements injure the reputation of or deter others from associating with that person. Clearly the statements in the website are false, and are known to be false. The question is whether there would be any defences available to the website owner. I suppose he’d argue a variety of fair comment defence (i.e. legitimate satire) along with a freedom of speech argument. But he may be in trouble because of the rules about malicious publications. As we’ve explained before, ‘malice’ means ill will or spite towards the person defamed, resulting in publication for an improper purpose, or without an honest belief in the truth of the publication. And, at least in Australia and the UK, that bars you from claiming the fair comment defence. On the other hand, we don’t have the First Amendment, which may change the outcome.

(Hat tip – Dave Bath at Balneus)

13 Comments

  1. Posted October 1, 2009 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    http://gb1990.net/legal/response/
    Grab the other two documents… they are both a hoot. The annexes could be considered a primer on social web humor (of normals, not geeks), including dozens of pictures of lolcats, bunnies balancing pancakes on heads, and other memes

  2. Posted October 2, 2009 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    Just last week Salon.com published an in depth three part biography of everything you never wanted to know about Glenn Beck and just which rocks he crawled out from under.

    Part 1: The Making of Glenn Beck (from birth to radio)

    Part 2: Glenn Beck becomes damaged goods (and his first efforts to pimp patriotism)

    Part 3: Glenn Beck rises again (and is born again Mormon)

    LE my personal favourite is Hitler discovering that he’s lost his shirt thanks to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. It’s a hoot.

  3. Posted October 2, 2009 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    The Downfall ripoffs are hilarious. A tower of wrong, yes, but hilarious. Especially the one with Hitler complaining about copping a parking fine in down town Tel Aviv.

  4. jc
    Posted October 2, 2009 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    I never watch Fox and never really seen Beck in action. I’ve read he’s said some silly things and wouldn’t doubt he’s done so.

    However is he really any worse than the repugnant Keith Oblermann? Not to me he isn’t after seeing him being interviewed by Catie Curic who went after him (Beck) like any hardened partisan leftie.

    Beck is basically a libertarian in the Ron Paul mode. While he isn’t my cup of tea and wouldn’t be Reason magazine’s ideal libertarian front man I’d find him a lot closer to my ideals than Curic, Olbermann or any of those lefties on US MSM.

    Here’s the interview with Curic.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRohgYwzRMU

    He made a really decent point and jammed it right back in her face.

    She suggested that his accusation that Obama is a racist is beyond the pale.

    He then asked her if she would be saying the same thing had George Bush (who Beck criticized often) attended a church for 20 years where the preacher suggested blacks were all criminals and introduced AIDS to whites?

    There’s a double standard here of course and the reason Beck is popular with the average middle American seems to be because the rest of the MSM is totally inept and so politically motivated they are no longer functional.

    It was Beck who had the White House Energy fired because of his extreme anti- white beliefs. Meanwhile Curic and the rest of the MSM gaggle of partisan lefties sat on the story.

    If he’s successful, good on him and hope he becomes even more so until the entire MSM goes broke and a new generation enter the picture.

    I reckon he’ll lose the case.

  5. Posted October 3, 2009 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    The Hoydens have found a Downfall for the new version of vegemite they’re supposedly calling iSnack 2.0.

    Makes Hitler’s reaction seem almost reasonable.

  6. Tinos Nitsopoulos
    Posted October 3, 2009 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    I’m disappointed that Beck would so blatantly attempt to quash freedom of speech.

    My favourite Downfall rip-off is this mortgage crisis one (mentions Schiff!).

  7. jc
    Posted October 3, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    And the point about Obama’s church is a fair one…but just make it bluntly rather than dressing it up by saying “I’m not saying he’s racist, but…” Beck was saying he’s racist.

    Sure, he was. However people sometimes don’t always choose their words carefully for the precision trained eye of the lawyer.

  8. jc
    Posted October 3, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    In this instance what issue is there that he did not come out and say Obama is a racist?

    No matter how you cut that turkey the fact remains that his 20 year attendance at that church, if you could call it that, is really quite troubling despite the left leaning media virtually avoiding it.

    I think Beck was actually being reasonable there. He can’t read minds so he couldn’t say with any accuracy if Obama is a racist or not.

    So parsing his words very carefully in this case made Beck appear quite reasonable.

  9. Posted October 3, 2009 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Completely independently of anything Beck may or may not have said and whether he said it effectively or not, I have to say I find the kid gloves with which Obama’s freakazoid church was treated to be completely crazy. To a lesser extent similar kid gloves were out for various other nutty churches too (McCain’s preacher was pretty screwy, so were some of Palin’s). The only guy who got properly hammered for his religion was Mitt Romney (Mormon) which would seem to indicate residual prejudice against Mormons in the USA.

    If an aspiring UK politician went to a church like that here they would be a national laughing stock. You would have Channel 4 in there doing a Christian version of ‘Undercover Mosque’. I can also just imagine what Rory Bremner and Have I got News for You would do to you with it. I really do think Americans treat religion far too gently — a point I’ve made before around these parts. The difference in treatment is so marked it sometimes produces differences in academic scholarship, let alone in political discourse.

  10. Posted November 10, 2009 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Update:
    Glenn Beck loses domain dispute, still ends up with domain

    From Ars: While agreeing that the site included Beck’s trademark, the arbiter noted that “even a ‘moron in a hurry’ would not likely conclude that Complainant sponsored, endorsed, or was affiliated with the website addressed by the disputed domain name.”

    Hmmm “abject imbecile” in the response by the original website owners, “moron in a hurry” from the arbiter. I wonder which is stronger?

    So, now Bech owns a domain name that casts doubt on his own integrity… I’m giggling all over again

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