Or, as I almost called this post, “Blogs and the Organizations That Love-Hate Them.”

Scottie Pippen

Today I follow up on the Scottie Pippen lawsuit. In the suit, we discover that Pippen thinks he can draw decisive conclusions from tags in a blog post. He suggests that readers may draw an “=” sign between a tag and a blog subject.

Do you think he’s right? For my sake—and that of millions of others—I hope not. More important, I hope a federal district court doesn’t buy that argument.

I wrote last week about Pippen’s lawsuit against a raft of media outlets. He alleges that their discussion of his financial picture hurt that very picture. In fact, he says at least one of those outlets claimed he had filed bankruptcy, which he says he never did.

But his naming a blog at ASU Law School as a defendant hits closest to home for me, for a number of reasons.

The blog, as I noted before, did not call Pippen bankrupt. It simply pointed out that he, like some other pro athletes, has experienced financial trouble.

Pippen’s boggle about the blog is more specific. His lawsuit notes that the blog post includes the name “Scottie Pippen” and the word “bankrupt.”

Not surprising, you might think, for parts of the blog mentioned athletes who had declared bankruptcy.

For Pippen, that’s inflammatory. His name near the BK word is actionable.

That gives me pause—and it should do the same for any journalist who works online, or who ever has her stuff posted online. In other words, practically everyone in the field.

The reason should be clear: Post tags refer to a wide variety of the content in a post. The only certain connection between the tags is that they appeared in the same post.

Let me give an example. I wrote a brief post on December 6 that praised the work of nine lawyers who volunteered to answer consumer questions about bankruptcy. To no one’s surprise, “bankruptcy” was one of the tags. But was I suggesting that those lawyers were financially insecure because of the tag? Of course not.

This happens all the time. Again here in Arizona, a prominent county attorney recently announced the recommendations of a task force examining child protective services and child abuse. Newspaper and TV news stories online used his name and child abuse as tags. Ungainly? Perhaps? Actionable? Not so much.

Of course, Pippen’s suit may chill speech at least a bit. For example, have you glanced up at the top of this post to see what tags I chose? Go ahead; I’ll wait.

Back? So you see that I decided to tag Scottie Pippen; but my more careful side omitted “bankruptcy.”

Over-careful? Maybe. But I’ll be watching how the court treats Pippen’s claim about some tags in a law school blog. Concurring with Pippen’s view would undermine the way journalism is done online; this question will remain open as long as there are online tags.

Even more important, agreeing with Pippen’s interpretation would deconstruct a foundational way that people read and use online information, trusting the interactivity of links without believing that those links are causational or essentially related. And that would be revolutionary.

Or, more simply put, Pippen’s analysis is Chicago Bull.

In the meantime, until the court rules, organizations (like ASU, I presume) will continue to have mixed feelings about blogs. They enjoy the immediacy and reader connection they engender. But their speedy publication nature—and lawsuits like these—give their lawyers agida—physical and mental.

As a blog advocate (“blogvocate”?), I am eager to see the case’s outcome. And until then, I’ll watch my tags.

Scottie Pippen

When Scottie Pippen gets bugged, he really gets bugged.

That’s one of the simpler takeaways we gained this week following the former NBA star’s legal broadside against, well, against a huge number of people.

Angered at what he sees as misreporting about his financial status, Pippen filed a defamation action in federal court in Illinois. Those at the receiving end of the suit range from massive media entities, all the way down to a law school blog.

I’ll talk about the blog in a moment.

Pippen’s beef is with media outlets that reported he had declared bankruptcy—he insists he never has. But in his retaliation against those who made the claim, he’s cast his net far wider. And in the process, he’s caught up a blog and others. His demand? $1 million from every entity that published or republished what he claims was erroneous information (there appear to be nine defendants).

News of the suit was generously shared with me two evenings ago by an ASU law student. She pointed me toward a TMZ news story—not a location I typically come across legal news. But the celebrity-gossip site seems to have broken the news of Pippen’s suit, and provided a link to the filings.

The lawsuit brought a chuckle from at least one Arizona lawyer, who opined on Facebook:

“ASU should offer to provide a remedial writing class to Pippen’s lawyer as settlement of all claims. ‘[A] most foul libel indeed’ sounds like something Stephenie Meyer would write, if she decided to pen a legal ‘thriller’ for tweens.”

The lawyer’s comparison to the “Twilight” series was based on the suit’s opening line: “It is a most foul libel indeed to be falsely accused of being bankrupt.”

I used to work with a lot of Chicago lawyers, and I know they can be all “Comes now the plaintiff.” Charming, really.

(I also enjoyed the caption, which names Arizona State University, based on the blog we’ll get to in a moment. The suit is aimed at “ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY FOUNDATION FOR A NEW AMERICAN UNIVERSITY A NON FOR PROFIT CORPORATION.” I know the language was yanked off some university website, but you can still see University President Michael Crow grimacing to see his carefully tailored new-speak bent to such pecuniary purposes. So very old American university.)

You may read the filing yourself here.

Since last night, other lawyers have offered their armchair critique of the lawyering on Twitter (“Twitiques”?). The most common 140-character analysis boiled down to “Damages? Really?” Others treaded dangerously close to saying that Pippen appeared to be in a bad financial spot, and this lawsuit could be a solution; of course, that could be risky speech, given the willingness of Pippen to add defendants.

And that takes me to the blog, specifically the “ASU Sports and Entertainment Law Blog.”

If it sounds like a modest affair, that’s because it is. Its content—quite often insightful and timely—is created by law students who, let’s admit, have a pretty busy day job. This is a media channel, true, but one that lacks the deep bench of CNBC or CBS, two other defendants.

Take a look at the blog here.

It’s well done and includes valuable content. One thing you won’t see, though, is the post in question. It was published back on February 1, and it was up and available right through early evening on Tuesday. And then—poof—it was depublished.

The sudden disappearance gave me some insight into the kind of day the ASU Law bloggers had. One can almost see the scramble in Tempe, the abrupt arrival of university lawyers into the lives of the students, the impetus to act to minimize and mitigate harm—not that anyone’s admitting any, of course.

Most indigestion-ridden, I would guess, is a student named Dan White, the author of the post. I’d suppose he’s had some conversations with ASU administration by now, and had the words of his post reviewed with combs that define “fine-toothed.”

I have to guess at those things, because I haven’t been able to speak with Dan—yet. My emailed request for an interview disappeared into the mists as readily as the original post did. But I’ll keep trying.

Who can blame him, though, for not speaking to media? Not me. I’d assume that the university lawyers have made it clear that no one but they will speak publicly about the post and this lawsuit. My offer that he may want to tell his own story probably does not sound too appealing to him. But perhaps it will eventually.

One reason Dan may want to chat with media (Call me!) is this: It appears he wrote a good post that was carefully crafted and not inaccurate. Of course, it will take some time to determine whether the post is judgment-proof. But gauging by the claims made in Pippen’s pleading itself, there ain’t much there when it comes to the blog.

After all, at least one other outlet actually reported that Pippen had filed bankruptcy. But Dan White never did that. Instead, he discussed the financial troubles of athletes generally. And then he wrote about “bad investments and failed lawsuits,” for which he had news links (i.e., they actually were factual). Pippen may not like people hearing the news, but it appears to be news.

(And yes, I have read the post. Having been through a lawsuit rodeo or two myself, I expected that ASU would deep-six the post pretty quickly, so I snared it when it was available. But although I have a copy of the post, I’m not going to republish it for you. After all, we have lawyers here at the State Bar too, and I’ll skip any step that may give them indigestion!)

I will follow up on this as the story develops. Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about the Pippen lawsuit and the dilemmas it suggests for journalists of all kinds, not merely student bloggers. And I’ll offer my thoughts on the value of blogs—even when they cause their parent organization some momentary distress.