Who was that masked man?

When we last took note of Nick Coleman’s Star Tribune column attacking us (“‘Blog of the year’ goes to extremes”), I recounted my conversation with the Star Tribune editor nominally responsible for Coleman’s column (“Megaphones without oversight”). In my conversation with the editor I had pointed out a number of factual errors regarding us that Coleman made in his column and asked for corrections.

The editor found Coleman’s errors to fall within a columnist’s privilege and referred to Star Tribune policy on the subject, which he was otherwise unable to relate. Although I was disappointed by his treatment of the issues I raised, he had the decency to acknowledge that he was embarrassd that the paper had published the column. He seemed not to have read it before I brought it to his attention.

We appealed the editor’s treatment of the factual errors in Coleman’s column to the Star Tribune’s “reader representative.” The Star Tribune reader represenative works with the paper’s senior editors and has the authority to overrule the resolution of such issues made by lower-level editors at the paper. In an email message to the reader representative we set forth five false and defamatory statements in Coleman’s column that we wanted the paper to correct:

Nick Coleman states or implies several facts in the referenced column that are false, and that he must have known to be false because we specifically addressed them on our site in connection with previous defamatory statements he had made. I consider his column a vicious personal attack with several maliciously false facts intended to harm me.

I will leave out of this list the degrading implications of certain of Coleman’s personal references as beneath contempt, but they are indicative of the utterly malicious spirit of this column.

1. Coleman repeatedly implies that we have discussed his financial status on our site. “I keep wishing the Ivy League boys had told me I was rich before I took my first job cleaning bathrooms…” and “If I had the money they think I do, I’d put it all in [the bank that is my employer]. Then I’d pull it out.”

Fact: We have NEVER referred to Coleman’s financial status in any manner. Period. His imputation to us of interest in his finances is false and defamatory. I want it retracted.

2. Coleman tries his hand at blogger-style fact-checking, saying I falsely claimed to be surprised by Time’s naming Power Line its first ever blog of the year (“the Aw Shucks Act doesn’t fly”). His reference to an online blog popularity poll does not support his imputation of dishonesty to me with respect to the Time honor; it’s a non sequitur. His imputation of dishonesty to me is false and defamatory. I want it retracted.

3. Coleman alleges that we “are only interested in being a megaphone without oversight, disclosure of conflicts of interest or professional standards.” This statement is false; we disclose conflicts when they exist. I did so specifically when writing about Coleman earlier this month [December 2004] on our site. His statement to the contrary is false and defamatory. I want it retracted.

4. Coleman asks whether our site “take[s] money from political parties, campaigns or well-heeled benefactors…” Coleman first aired this slander on Air American on December 13. We responded specifically to Coleman’s assertion on our site, stating that we are not paid by anyone for our work on the site. Coleman’s statement that “We don’t know, and they don’t have to say” is flagrantly false; he knows because we told him so on our site, with which his column shows familiarity. His statement that he doesn’t know if we’re paid and we don’t have to say is false and defamatory. I want it retracted.

[Coleman’s editor] told me that Coleman said “he assumed” we received a stipend from the Claremont Institute. We specifically stated on our site in response to his earlier defamation of us that we are not paid for our work on the site. We receive no money from Claremont, period. Coleman never called us; our direct dial phone numbers are listed on our site. His repetition of this falsehood is malicious.

Coleman frames his column as a hatchet job, and that may be the only candid comment in it. The bile directed at us in the column shows a desire to hurt me personally and to make my employer suffer for my avocation. We addressed Coleman’s column at length on our site yesterday in the links below. Please read them for context.

[5.] One more: Coleman says we have ridiculed the poor and disadvantaged [“while working out of paneled bank offices”]. False and defamatory. I want it retracted.

After conferring with Coleman and the Star Tribune’s senior editors over three work days, the reader representative has concluded that it is appropriate only to print a “clarification” stating our previously published denial of receiving secret payments from anonmymous benefactors for our work on this site. The “clarification” runs in today’s newspaper.

As to items one and five, the senior editors of the Star Tribune have deliberated and concluded that Coleman was not referring to us. In the column, however, Coleman describes us as “Ivy League lawyers.” With respect to item one, Coleman’s reference to the “Ivy League boys” he wishes had told him he was rich before he took his first job cleaning bathrooms can only be understood in the context of his column to refer to us.

Moreover, his reference to depositing his money with my employer “if I had all the money they think I do” and then closing his account only makes sense if Coleman is talking about us. It makes no sense otherwise, and his column never mentions any bloggers other than us. On this point, the paper adds that we have linked to another site that has referred to Coleman’s financial status. (We don’t get it either. When we pointed out that the Star Tribune has linked to our site many times and asked whether that made the Star Tribune responsible for everything we have written here, the reader’s representative asserted “that’s a legal issue.”)

With respect to item five (“Extreme bloggers are so hip and cool they can make fun of the poor and the disadvantaged while working out of paneled bank offices…”), the reference to working out of “paneled bank offices” only makes sense in context if Coleman is referring to me, whom Coleman had previously identified in the column as a bank vice president.

We have asked the folks who run the Star Tribune to whom Coleman was referring in those particular references. They tell us they didn’t ask him during their three-day investigation of our complaint. Unlike O.J., they have not promised to search for the offender, but I’m sure they share his sense of mission. He’s out there somewhere, and they’ll let us know when they find him. It’s their responsibility as members in good standing of the mainstream media.

One final point. Bill Cooper is one of my heroes. He put himself through school while working as a beat cop in Detroit. He has become a recognized leader in the financial services industry. Though he defies every stereotype of Republican privilege and self-absorption, he served one critical term as chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party. He is one of the most genuinely charitable people I know, giving of both his time and his money.

In his day job he is also the chairman and chief executive officer of TCF Financial Corporation, the Minneapolis-based bank holding company for which I have the good fortune to work. Yesterday he called me to assure me that my job was not in jeopardy because of what Coleman had written. He also read me the letter that he was about to send to the publisher of the Star Tribune on a point of which we had lost sight:

While I have disagreed with the Star Tribune on many issues, I respect with all my heart your right of freedom of the press and free speech. Apparently Nick Coleman does not share these values.

To suggest that customers of TCF Bank should move their money because of a TCF employee’s blogging activities (an exercise of free speech) is just wrong. To suggest that an employer of an individual who exercises free speech rights should be punished is, I am sure, a violation of journalistic ethics and perhaps a legal issue.
Just for the record, the first time I ever heard of Power Line (which I have never read) was when I read about it in Time Magazine. To suggest that TCF or I am somehow the creator or supporter of Power Line is simply not true. Incidentally, Mr. Coleman never contacted me to ask if I was behind it (another example of great journalism!).

One thing I can assure you of is that if your columnists can suggest that people stop banking at TCF because of the political activities of one of its employees, TCF will never spend another dollar on advertising in the Star Tribune as long as I am Chairman.

HINDROCKET adds: You have, on the one hand, the ability to dish it out, and on the other hand, the ability to take it. The execrable Mr. Coleman squeals like a stuck pig when the shoe is on the other foot. How’s that for a mixed metaphor?

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