Thursday, December 11, 2008

Phony Legal Issue of the Year


From the December 5th Daily Telegraph (U.K.):
A New York barmaid was sacked after blogging about the Belgian defence minister's alleged antics during an official visit to the city.

Nathalie Lubbe Bakker was fired from her job after government officials rang the bar owner to complain about the claims relating to Pieter De Crem.

Miss Lubbe Bakker, also a Belgian, said she was shocked when she recognised the defence minister among a rowdy party of her countrymen who "stumbled" into the B-Café.

Writing on her "Living in New York" blog the next day [Google translation], Miss Lubbe Bakker claimed the minister's sang "bawdy" songs and made persistent demands to take over the serving of drinks behind the bar,

She said the incident had left her "deeply, deeply, deeply shamed" to be Belgian. . .

Four days later, after her posting had been picked by Belgium's De Standaard newspaper [Google translation], Miss Lubbe Bakker reported on her blog that she had been sacked after a defence ministry telephone call to her boss.
De Crem later admitted [Google translation] that a member of his staff had contacted the bar after Ms Bakker's web post. Embarrassed, De Drem attacked and--as translated by TechCrunch's Robin Wauters--made a statement to Parliament:
I want to take this opportunity and use this non-event to signal a dangerous phenomenon in our society. We live in a time where everybody is free to publish whatever he or she wants on blogs at will without taking any responsibility. This exceeds mud-slinging. Together with you, other Parliament members and the government I find that it’s nearly impossible to defend yourself against this. Everyone of you is a potential victim. I would like to ask you to take a moment and think about this.
De Crem added that his lawyers were examining measures to "defend his integrity."

My thoughts:
  • Whatever the scope of privacy, it doesn't shield what one does in a public place like a bar. Lewis v. United States, 385 U.S. 206, 210 (1966). It's not about law; it's about who you choose as witnesses.

  • No legal privilege covers bartender communications. Yet, we depend on bartenders to use discretion, especially when we're drunk and/or annoyed. I wouldn't want anything I said at "mahogany ridge" repeated on the Internet--and would boycott a cafe where it happened. It's ok to be a bartender and a blogger, but not to blog about customers. So, contrary to most commentary, the bar owner was right to fire Ms Bakker. It's not about law; it's about business.

  • De Crem's attempt to "shoot the messenger" is idiotic. Today, the entire Western world blogs. So, as Robin Wauters says, "When everyone is a blogger, nothing you say is off the record." That's called accountability; hardly "dangerous."

    Yes, Ms Bakker shouldn't have tattled. But call off your high-powered attorneys. The best way to preserve your integrity is to preserve your integrity. It's not about law; it's about conduct.

This isn't about free speech or libel. It's about responsibility. Sometimes, lawyers aren't the problem; clients are.

(via Open Europe, Ledeberg, Bente Kalsnes’ blog, Instapundit)


Tom said...

The Defense Minister had every right (if not the necessary good judgment) to behave badly in a bar, the barmaid had every right to write about it, and the bar owner (he owns the place, after all) had every right to fire her.

Why can't it be left at that?

Carl said...

I agree completely.

Anonymous said...

The greatest threat to free speech and freedom everywhere is Islam and the Koran. What do you propose to do about those?

Carl said...




See, e.g., Iraq, invasion of.

Anonymous said...

"Iraq, invasion of." Far from sufficient.

Carl said...


Ok, what am I missing? What would you do in addition?