Facing suit, anonymous blogger lifts his mask
- Article by: Mark Brunswick and Dane Smith
- Star Tribune
- January 5, 2006 - 12:10 AM
A feisty anonymous Minnesota political blogger has unmasked himself in the face of a lawsuit that claims his blog defamed a local public relations firm.
The case against Michael Brodkorb and his website, www.minnesotademocratsexposed.com, could break new legal ground in the Wild West frontier of blogging.
Lawyers who filed the suit say that Web logs and other new media should be held to the same standards of accountability as traditional media and journalism. Brodbkorb, a former operative for the Minnesota Republican Party, pledges to protect his source and to keep his website going.
The suit alleges that Brodkorb, citing an unnamed source, defamed the St. Paul-based public relations firm New School Communications when he posted a claim that New School had become publicly critical of the congressional campaign of Coleen Rowley only after Rowley rejected a contract with the firm.
Despite being told that New School does not perform political campaign work, Brodkorb, the suit says, continues to make the claim, even though his source "may, in fact, be a fabrication."
Joe Elcock, Rowley's campaign manager, said that Hubert (Buck) Humphrey, now a senior counselor at New School Communications, did submit a proposal for fundraising to the campaign in June of 2005 but that it was rejected.
Elcock said he was unaware whether Humphrey worked for New School at the time but added that the campaign was focusing on other issues.
New School's website shows that Humphrey joined the firm in March of 2005.
Blois Olson, the president of New School, said neither New School nor he solicited the contract. But Olson said he did not know whether Humphrey, acting on his own, had made the effort. Humphrey was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Olson, a political analyst, also is a copublisher of the widely read online newsletter Politics In Minnesota. Brodkorb's claims hurt Olson's credibility as an impartial analyst of Minnesota politics, Olson's lawyer said.
"This is not an attempt to temper free speech," said Steve Silton, a partner in Mansfield, Tanick & Cohen, in a statement. "[Brodkorb's] refusal to retract this story that is damaging to the reputation and business of New School Communications and Blois Olson is what forced us to pursue legal action."
'I AM M.D.E.'
Brodkorb, a former research director for the Minnesota Republican Party, had been widely suspected of being the author of the often-acerbic website, which describes itself as a blog "dedicated to the truthful discussion on the activities, statements and tactics of Minnesota Democrats."
In the past it has done such things as purchase domain names of DFL candidates so that viewers who log on to an address expecting to see a candidate's website are instead directed to the MDE site.
In a posting called "I AM M.D.E.," Brodkorb, who said his blog work had no connection to the Republican Party, acknowledged he is the author of the blog. He said he wanted to remain anonymous in the past to keep the focus on the subject matter rather than himself.
"It is a testament to my hard work and the work of hundreds of people who have e-mailed me information on Minnesota Democrats that in the end, a lawsuit filed by a prominent Democrat consultant forced my identity to be revealed," he wrote.
In an interview, Brodkorb said he stands by the accuracy of the posting and pledges not to reveal the identity of his source.
The suit, filed in Dakota County District Court, seeks damages against Brodkorb and also asks that he be ordered to remove all the alleged defamatory statements from his website and be stopped from making any further defamatory statements about New School or Olson.
The suit has the potential for breaking new ground on legal issues associated with blogging. While some states' courts have ruled on issues such as anonymous blogging, the territory remains largely uncharted, particularly in the federal courts. While Brodkorb voluntarily revealed himself, some legal experts suggest that federal law would have made it very difficult to unmask him.
Additionally, in a Delaware case last year, the state's Supreme Court ruled that people aggrieved by a blog had the opportunity for redress simply by posting on the offending blog. Political debate, such as that engaged in by Minnesota Democrats Exposed, also is usually afforded the highest form of First Amendment protection by courts, said Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota.
One result from the Delaware case could be that bloggers may benefit from their own gunslinger reputations, Kirtley said.
"A lot of stuff that appears on blogs, whether it's meant to be or not, is usually not taken by readers as being statements of fact," she said. "Bloggers, by their very nature, are not expected to adhere to the same standards of accuracy that those in the mainstream media would be."
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