Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Don't Mess with the Bloggers: I guess I’m a little late to this story, but it provides one more piece of evidence that the advertising industry’s control mentality makes it ill-suited to the blogosphere.

Back in March, blogger Lance Dutson of the Maine web report ran a series of articles about the ineptitude of the state’s tourism efforts, and in particular its ad campaign. As part of his reporting he downloaded an ad from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development website, produced by Warren Kremer Paino Advertising, which included an unfortunate error: the phone number for tourist information was in fact the number for a phone sex service.

“This is supposed to be our biggest industry, but it’s being run like a trailer-park daycare on its 3rd notice from the Human Services people,” said Dutson.

At this point, the economic development folks and the ad agency could have simply owned up to a silly mistake and moved on. But they decided it would be more fun to sue, and Dutson was served with a multi-million lawsuit. (As an aside, the tort reform industry is always complaining about “frivolous” lawsuits filed by consumers against corporations, but the reality is that corporations are far more likely to abuse the legal process than consumers, and their lawsuits are not just frivolous, they’re abusive.)

“Getting the sheriff to deliver the suit to me, in front of my kids and neighbors, is the latest freaked-out situation this Office of Tourism has put me in. I have to say this has disrupted the Dutson household a bit, that’s what happens when someone files a crushing lawsuit that, if successful, would utterly destroy my life. So here I am, one man against the state and its contractors, put in the position of shutting up or being pounded by their deep pockets and a wild misconception of what the court system is supposed to be used for.”

To his credit, Dutson refused to back down and was able to retain powerhouse first amendment attorney Greg Herbert of Greenberg Traurig, who saw this case for the feeble bullying that it was. He also received massive support from the blogosphere, including luminaries Glenn Reynolds, Jeff Jarvis, Shel Israel, and B.L. Ochman.

After a storm of criticism, the pathetic thugs at Warren Kremer Paino have backed down, thanks in part to the efforts of the Media Bloggers Association, which had this to say: “As it should be, the story of ‘Warren Kremer Paino and the Maine Blogger’ is now a cautionary tale. Future potential plaintiffs would do well to consider WKP’s experience in attempting to silence a blog critic through the Federal courts. Our message is simple: ‘Don't Mess with the Bloggers.’”


  • At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    WKP didn't back down as a result of any blogger pressure. They dropped their case because they didn't have a case.

    - Amanda Chapel

  • At 5:45 AM, Blogger Paul A. Holmes said…

    That's true, obviously. But not having a case does not always deter big business from suing individuals... if big business things it can bully and intimidate them into settling... being sued can be very expensive even if you are completely in the right. So the support of the blogosphere -- which imposed some costs on the ad agency while a pro bono lawyer absorbed the costs of the blogger -- was certainly helpful.

  • At 5:49 AM, Blogger Paul A. Holmes said…

    Shel left a comment obviously intended for this story, but appended to a story below. Anyway, he links here http://weblog.burningbird.net/2006/05/07/a-bully-is-still-a-bully/

    The story argues that the blogger was the bully, and scores some points. But the essence of the case is captured for me by the first commenter: "The company that decided to sue rather than address speech with more speech. As far as I’m concerned, it’s really as simple as that."


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