Saturday, August 02, 2008

Legal action threatened against SWAC Girl

On Thursday, I received the following comment on my blog from J. Todd Foster, editor at the Bristol Herald Courier:
Lynn: This post is factually incorrect in a number of areas and, thus, is defamatory. First off, our three-member editorial board has not changed. All are still present and accounted for. Andrea Hopkins is going to medical school soon but hasn't left yet. When she leaves, there will be two members of our editorial board remaining, with a third coming on board soon. Meanwhile, I left on good enough terms from Waynesboro that my company promoted me to editor at a paper five times larger. Finally, have you polled all of our readers on their views of the Wise County power plant? The average defamation suit, by the way, costs an estimated $200,000 to defend. That's if you win.

J. Todd Foster
What was he referring to? The original post from Monday, July 28, can be read here.

Mr. Foster followed up with an email demanding that I correct the "lies." He said if I did not, he would sue me and defend himself to his 100,000 readers in the Sunday edition of his newspaper, not just the dozens who indulge my post. I agree; I don't have 100,000 ... but I've got more than a few dozen. Come on, Todd ... I've picked up a few readers the past couple of years.

Like anyone else, the thought of being sued stopped me in my tracks. I had not received any previous correspondence from Mr. Foster until his comment that was left on July 31st mentioning $200,000 in defense costs. Ouch.

A few bloggers have already commented on this issue. Michael Silence at the blog said:
"I try not to make a practice out of threatening bloggers with litigation. I'd have more success swatting hornets."
Scott White at Scott's Morning Brew posted:
"Apparently J. Todd Foster of the Bristol Herald Courier is in a bit of a snit over some commentary by SWAC Girl on her blog. The thing that concerns me? His response to her was the immediate threat of a lawsuit..."
Even David Mastio of Blog Net News posted it on his website. Because of his background as a journalist, he had the "insider" insight into it. In Newspaper editor to bloggers: kick me more, he wrote:
"The issue that matters for bloggers and editors more broadly is the absolute lunacy of Foster’s reaction to one of SWAC Girl’s recent posts...
"Having worked in newspapers for many a year, I know how journalists think of the jerks whose first reaction to a negative article is to threaten us with a lawsuit. We sharpen our keyboards to write something even nastier. So naturally, I assumed a real journalist wouldn’t throw around $200,000 lawsuit threats — we know how counterproductive they are.

"Boy am I an idiot. I keep having faith in my brethren and they keep letting me down."
Before I could read further, I had to look up the definition of the word "anathema," which means "one who or that which is greatly disliked or detested."

With that in mind, Dave Mastio's blog continued ...
"But there’s a reason that frivolous lawsuits threats are anathema to people who care about the right to free speech. Mr. Foster is correct that such suits are very expensive to defend, which is why the mere threat can often be enough to chill constitutionally protected and factually accurate speech.

"For a journalist to use such a tactic as his first resort is a disgrace. Maybe SWAC Girl is wrong. Maybe she or the blogger she was linking to owe Mr. Foster a correction. One thing absolutely is clear: 1st Amendment dependent newspaper journalist Foster has acted without the judgment you’d expect from a man with the responsibility of editing a newspaper."
Others have weighed in privately about the issue. All have questioned defamation ... some know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a lawsuit or the threat of a lawsuit.

The internet, from my experience, is full of far more scurrilous comments than I have written. The general feeling is live and let live ... it's an opinion and we move on. Most of us are doing this in our spare time. I have had far worse written about me ... cursed at and called unrepeatable names and falsely accused by those who seem determined to shut me down and silence my freedom of speech. But the thought of suing did not cross my mind.

In reviewing my post, the only thing I saw that was factually incorrect -- and that was a misunderstanding on my behalf -- was the number of people who had left the editorial board. Reportedly, Kathy Still left several months ago; I thought she was on the editorial board. My mistake. Andrea Hopkins is leaving ... so it was only one person who left and not two, as I wrote. Otherwise, everything else is my opinion and this is, after all, an opinion blog ... my own editorial page.

Here is my original post with my editorial comments added in red:
J. Todd Foster just keeps bucking the locals wherever he goes. [That is my personal opinion.] He left Waynesboro on a not-so-good basis two years ago. [Again, MY OPINION ... some in the community were not happy with him. I never mentioned his job.] Now in Southwest Virginia, he and the editorial board at the Bristol Herald Courier came out against the Dominion Virginia Power coal plant that is wanted by the majority of citizens in that area. [Most of the feedback I have heard is pro-power plant with out-of-town radical environmentalists against it ... but we will never know for sure one way or the other unless we conduct a poll.] Of those three editorial board journalists, two are now gone. [My mistake; I thought Kathy Still was editorial board. So I stand corrected ... one has left; two are still there.] Kilo wonders in today's post if J. Todd Foster will be next. He writes:
"The writing is on the wall for the BHC. Circulation is falling. The BHC paper boxes that lined the roads for years are now disappearing and being replaced by Kingsport Times boxes. The BHC will continue to lose local readership. The reason is J Todd Foster. With any luck, the powers that be will get rid of him. When they do, circulation will again grow." [Kilo OPINES about Foster.]
Deja vu.
Carl Kilo has returned from vacation and written a response to Todd Foster. In part he says:
"Foster throws out a law suit would cost a blogger 200K to defend. Powerful threat indeed."
DJ McGuire also has a response, MSM goes after another blogger, and a graphic that he whipped up late last night (actually in the wee hours of Saturday morning). He says:
"I don't know why Foster decided to bring out the sledgehammer ..."
There may be others who have weighed in on this issue that I have missed ... all have defended bloggers' rights.

There is a difference between lies, opinions, and mistakes. I hope I have successfully sorted through them. This is an opinion blog just like the editorial pages of a newspaper. If there is anything factually incorrect in this or other posts, Mr. Foster is welcome to let me know and I will gladly make a correction.


CR UVa said...

Threatening to bring out a lawsuit is the act of someone with no options left or a coward; in the case of Mr. Foster, I'd lean towards the latter.

It basically shows that the person is not willing to deal with the dispute and instead feels that threats of poverty and government is the only way to win. Knowing that you received no prior correspondence, Mr. Foster shows the very reason that blogging has gained prevalence and why people distrust the mainstream media.

I understand if he does not like your opinion; that's life. But threats like this fly in the very face of the rights our country was founded on. I hope Mr. Foster looks at all the criticism flying his way right now and learns a little something.

Carl Kilo said...

Foster is lying...His paper has no where near a " 100,000 readers" He has less than half that number.
You see..If a blogger makes a mistake Foster cries defamation..libel..slander...But when the press does it, or Foster himself tells a "100,000" crock story, It's just a mistake.
What a boob.

Salem Republicans said...


Let me know if he pushes this any further and you need any help. Don't worry about that $200,000 crap. That'll just help your Motion for Sanctions when you file it.


Phil said...

I usually found that the criminal who screamd the loudest about suing cops was usually the guiltiest. I wonder if that is the same with editors?

Tom James said...

More good stuff on Foster the LIAR!

SWAC Girl said...

Redstater, thanks for the supportative words. It is much appreciated.

SWAC Girl said...

Carl, thanks for the support. Couldn't help but laugh when I read your post....

SWAC Girl said...

Greg, thanks so much. It's good to have you guys around who know your way in and out of an affidavit! It is much appreciated and, hopefully, won't be necessary ... but thanks for the offer.

SWAC Girl said...

Phil, I'm sure you've been in circumstances in the past with the police work but it's a new experience for me. Thanks for the support and for posting the graphic that DJ made up. You guys are something else....

SWAC Girl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SWAC Girl said...

Tom, thanks for your support ... it is appreciated.

Anonymous said...


If comes after you legally (which I doubt he could convince his MG parent to spend the cash with what I hear are declining revenues), post the call for funds and many will respond to support you! The Kingsport Times is kicking butt in SWVA, and has been for years. Running a paper by continuing to stir up conflict and taking the anti-(against the local residents) attitude does not sell papers...the average John Doe is smart enough to see through the concept! I've often wondered when someone would challenge the BHC on how green they really are? How much green energy are they using to produce their product?

Rock on SWAC...BLOGS RULE!!!!

Anonymous said...


DanNY said...

The hubris and gall of the MSM is legend.

J. Todd Foster exemplifies those traits exquisitely.


Anonymous said...

I'd be willing to bet if this guy tries to sue and this lands in court, there will be more than enough bloggers and readers around willing to chip in a few bucks to pay the bills.

Loudoun Insider said...

What a tool!

I saw this mentioned at RWL. I was an early controbutor to the BVBL Legal Defense Fund and will pitch in here as well if needed. No doubt you will have plenty of support.

Dave said...

Foster's probably posting up a storm over at (or wherever that blog is that encourages bitter journalists to complain about just about everything).

Zoe Brain said...

You got one minor detail wrong. You corrected it.

The rest is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. An idiot with the initials JTF.

If he does try anything, hit him with a SLAPP suit. You'll win. It will be painful though. Your lawyer will get rich, you'll get something, not enough to make up for the sheer inconvenience.

Good Luck. Hope he pulls his head in after demonstrating such cranio-rectal inversion.

At-The-Water-Cooler said...

Linked to your post from Bloggers 1st Ammendment Rights - Appeal for moral support