The Washington Post reports this morning on a blogger who decided to write a post about one of the customers he served at work and got fired over the aftermath. Two days before Christmas, Chuckles of Freelance Genius (real name Charles Williamson) wrote the following about Tucker Carlson after he and his companion rented movies at his video store:
Tucker Carlson opened an account last night at my video store. I thought the name seemed familiar but I couldn’t figure out why. It was after he left that I realized he was on the list of Gigantic Cobagz. I could tell you what he and his ridiculously wasped-out female companion (wife?) rented if you really want to know. I won’t tell you where he lives, though. That would be wrong and stupid. I will also not be running around ordering 10,000 copies of America: The Book and having it sent to his place even if that would be more awesome than frozen urine treats for his home.
Williamson thought that the low level of traffic at his blog made him invisible enough for this to go unnoticed to all but his circle of friends. Unfortunately for Chuckles, nothing on the Internet is invisible, especially with Google and other search engines making all links more or less equal. The Post describes what happened next:
A week later, Williamson had forgotten all about it, he told us yesterday. That is, until Carlson, 37, reappeared at the video store and, said Williamson, “got pretty aggressive.” According to Williamson, Carlson confronted him about the blog and said he viewed the post as a threat to him and his wife. “He said, ‘If you keep this [expletive] up, I will [expletive] destroy you,’ ” Williamson recalled.
Williamson said he agreed to remove the blog post and did so later that night: “All I remember thinking was I was worried about what this guy was going to do.” He consulted a lawyer friend and was told he had probably not broken any laws. “What I said was pretty juvenile, I’ll admit,” he said.
In a phone interview Thursday, Carlson acknowledged that he approached Williamson in the store and said he was “very aggressive” because he wanted the post removed: “I don’t like to call the police or call his boss. . . . I’m a libertarian. I’m not into that.”
On Monday, Williamson said, his Potomac Video manager called and fired him. Williamson said he was told the company was threatened with legal action “and the owner doesn’t like that.” He re-posted the original Carlson item later that day. Williamson said he later learned that a man who identified himself as a lawyer for Carlson had been in the store and asked Potomac Video employees questions about him.
Carlson told the Post that “this guy is threatening my family,” a reference to the “frozen urine treats” in the original message. Williamson says that’s a reference to an old gag he and his friends pulled on someone in the past. Carlson says that he has had to deal with stalkers twice before, which would certainly make someone rather sensitive to the issue of a hostile person having access to one’s address.
It’s at this point that the versions diverge. Carlson claims that he never called any lawyers, and that he in fact does not have a personal attorney. Williamson got fired, however, which seems to at least belie the assertion that Carlson had some libertarian objection to calling his boss, if not siccing lawyers on Williamson. According to Williamson, his termination came in response to threatened legal action, and in reading more recent posts, Williamson alleges that lawyers are still harrassing his former co-workers. The store manager would not comment for the record on Williamson’s termination — making him perhaps the smartest of the people involved in this story.
A few noteworthy bloggers have already weighed in on Williamson’s story. Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice seems more sympathetic to Williamson as David against Carlson’s Goliath. Patterico says that the original blog post was “creepy” and Williamson deserved to be fired for it. Ann Althouse takes Carlson’s side, and Dan Riehl wonders why Carlson ever became famous in the first place. Sister Toldjah says that regardless of what one thinks about Carlson, he had an expectation of privacy that Williamson threatened.
I think most of the above is probably correct. Someone certainly called Williamson’s boss to get him fired, and it seems more likely that a lawyer did it — or perhaps NBC’s security department. While I think Carslon overreacted a bit — it may have been a smarter move to have a friendly chat with a clerk who already has access to your address and get a better sense of his intentions — the fact remains that celebrities often get targeted by psychos, and sometimes those psychos succeed in killing them. Joking on one’s blog about having Carlson’s address and issuing a thinly-veiled threat to release it (and to leave frozen urine at his residence) in a post that shows some obvious hostility towards Carlson would have to be taken seriously, especially by someone who has had to deal with stalkers before.
Free speech does not release one from responsibility for what they say and write. Writing about customers one serves at their job puts their employer at some risk for legal action as well as a negative impact on business. Williamson’s boss has every right to fire him if Williamson used his position as an employee to even threaten to abuse personal information on customers. If a video store cannot build trust with their customers that their information (including, say, credit card numbers) will only be used for the express purpose for which the customer shared it, then customers will go somewhere else, and the business will suffer.
Most of this is common sense. It seems that most of the players in this drama suffered from a lack of it. (links via Memeorandum)
UPDATE: I guess Carlson’s on NBC, not CNN, which shows you how little I pay attention to him. Thanks to Ordinary Everyday Christian for the correction (which I made in the text above).