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Friday, August 7, 2020

Kurin v. Balter: The anatomy of a bogus defamation suit against a #MeToo reporter, in which the reporter writes his draft Answer to the Complaint. [Updated August 8]

Charles L. Brieant Federal Building, home of the Southern District of NY White Plains branch


As readers of this blog know all too well by now, I have been sued for $10 million in defamation damages by University of California, Santa Barbara archaeologist Danielle Kurin for reporting on her repeated misconduct, including failing to protect students from her abusive ex-husband, retaliating against students who reported sexual abuse, and a general history of bullying students and colleagues alike. The most recent installment in this saga can be found here, with backlinks to earlier stories.

The lawsuit is filed in the White Plains branch of the Southern District of New York, which is much in the news these days in connection with various Trumpian scandals.

Although I am currently representing myself in the lawsuit, I may well have professional representation soon. Nevertheless, I am taking major responsibility for marshaling the facts in the case, and thus I have begun work on my Answer to the latest Amended Complaint. That Answer is now due on August 18 I can say that it is a lot of work, and yet bears the satisfaction of telling the truth.

I am reproducing the first part of my efforts at a draft below, although this may get edited for length and inclusion of legal arguments as we go along. Nevertheless, I thought readers might find it of interest, as a demonstration of the falsity of Kurin's claims and the essence of my responses to them. I will post further installments as they are written, in the interests of the full transparency which Kurin and her institution, UCSB, have fought hard to avoid. The numbers refer to statements in the original Complaint. Obviously this is a rough draft so please excuse the typos and formatting issues. If anyone has comments or suggestions, please feel free to add in the comments section below.


DRAFT ANSWER TO AMENDED COMPLAINT


INTRODUCTION

1.     Plaintiff Kurin states that Defendant Balter owns and operates a blog and she provides the URL for it. This statement is true. Defendant Balter, a reporter with 42 years of experience working for major publications, often uses his blog to write about topics that interest him, as is typical of most bloggers, including journalists who also blog on the side. However, over the past few years, Balter has used his blog to publish his reporting about misconduct in academia, because he finds that this publishing format is more suitable to doing what is often called “#MeToo journalism.” Last year, Balter published an article in the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), the number one journalism magazine in the United States (published by Columbia University) in which he explained at length why he had made the choice to publish his #MeToo journalism on his blog, after a couple of years of doing it for major publications like Science, The Verge (Vox media), and Scientific American. That article can be found at https://www.cjr.org/opinion/metoo-academia-sexual-assault-harassment.php. The editors of were very intrigued by this somewhat unusual approach to doing serious journalism and published the article because they thought it would be of interest to CJR’s very broad readership. Kurin also states that Balter has “myriad social media presences.” This statement is inaccurate and very misleading, because the word “myriad” is usually defined as meaning a very large number. In reality, Balter posts on his blog, Twitter, and Facebook. He does not use any other social media platforms except in very rare instances. In making this misleading statement, it appears that Kurin wishes to prejudice the court into accepting the statements she makes in the next section, in which she begins to attempt to portray Balter as something other than a real and serious journalist.
2.     Plaintiff Kurin says that Defendant Balter “proclaims” to be a #MeToo reporter. This statement is false, misleading, and again represents an attempt to prejudice the court against an established and reputable journalist. Balter’s status as a #MeToo reporter is based on his actual history and practice as a reporter, not on proclamations. During the past five years, Balter has investigated dozens of cases of misconduct and wrongdoing, using the standard techniques of journalism which require corroboration for all statements made except where they are clearly opinion (which is allowed in modern journalism.) In nearly all of these cases, the allegations have not only turned out to be correct, but have led to termination or forced resignation in many cases. As Kurin points out elsewhere in her Complaint, Balter maintains a roster of his investigations on the home page of his blog, which can be found at http://michael-balter.blogspot.com/2018/12/sexual-abusers-i-have-known.html. Kurin further states that Balter is an “internet vigilante” who exploits victims of sexual abuse to enhance his own reputation. These states are false and defamatory, and Kurin provides absolutely no evidence whatsoever, here or anywhere else in her Complaint, for this highly prejudicial interpretation of Balter’s motives. In a recent interview with an organization devoted to protecting students and other researchers engaged in field work, Balter discussed his motivations and the history of his involvement in #MeToo reporting at length. This is the best and only source of accurate information about his motivations:  http://michael-balter.blogspot.com/2020/06/the-confessions-of-metoo-reporter.html
3.     Plaintiff Kurin states that Balter uses his blog as a “bully pulpit” to negligently, maliciously, and recklessly” publish stories that are often false and that his motives for doing so are personal fame and aggrandizement. Again, these statements are totally false and designed to prejudice the Court against Balter’s dedicated work as a journalist trying to help victims of abuse find ways to tell their stories. Kurin is clearly hoping that by painting such a false and injurious portrait of Balter and his motives, the Court will become convinced that these alleged motivations apply to his reporting about Kurin’s misconduct as well. This dishonest attempt to deflect from the actual facts must fail.
4.     Plaintiff Kurin alleges that Balter “doxes” individuals that he is investigating and has published their home addresses and bank records. In only one case has Balter published such information about a subject of his reporting, under circumstances that were journalistically justified. The information published did not relate to a sexual misconduct investigation but to entire different matters. Again, Kurin seeks to mislead the Court about Balter’s character and falsely make him out to be an unethical journalist.
5.     Plaintiff Kurin says that Defendant Balter portrays himself as a “journalist and journalism professor,” putting those terms in quotes as if there is some question whether they are accurate. In fact, Balter is a journalist and a journalism professor, full stop. He began his journalism career in Los Angeles in 1978, as a reporter at KPFK radio, and later began work as a freelance writer for the L.A. Weekly, the L.A. Reader, the Los Angeles Times, and Los Angeles Magazine. In 1988 Balter moved to Paris, where he engaged in food, travel, and political writing for the International Herald Tribune, Travel and Leisure, Islands magazine, Bon Appetit, Saveur, and other publications. In 1991 he became the Paris correspondent for Science, a position he held for 25 years. More recently Balter has written for National Geographic, Smithsonian, Discover, Scientific American, The Verge, the Columbia Journalism Review, SAPIENS, Audubon, and other publications. Likewise, Balter has taught journalism at Boston University, New York University, and the City College of New York. Kurin also states that Balter publishes embellished and false stories. This is false. Throughout his career, Balter has followed the highest standards of journalism and journalistic ethics, and has continued to use those standards in his #MeToo reporting. For example, during the 25 years that Balter worked for Science, the journal was obliged to publish no more than a half dozen very minor corrections to his reporting, way below the average for that and most other publications. Finally, Kurin’s statement that academia and science have rejected Balter are blatantly false, and Kurin provides no evidence for her false statement.
6.     Plaintiff Kurin states that Defendant Balter admits to playing “fast and loose” with his reporting, citing the Columbia Journalism Review article referred to above. Balter admits to no such thing, and Kurin is clearly hoping that the Court might not read every reference in her Complaint and thus not recognize the blatant falsehoods represented by this statement and so many others in her Complaint. Nowhere in that article does Balter say that he does not accept the high journalistic standards of mainstream publications; moreover, Balter’s reference to possible legal liability refers not to any faults with his reporting, but to the fact that writing about controversial subjects such as #MeToo cases is risky, and that accused individuals sometimes bring lawsuits against journalists who are simply doing their jobs and reporting the truth. The current litigation brought by Kurin is an excellent example of this.
7.     Plaintiff Kurin states that Defendant Balter acts as “judge and jury” in his reporting and implies that he simply proclaims accused individuals “guilty” based on his own whims and prejudices. Kurin also says that Balter concludes that some accused abusers are culpable “in the face of contrary findings by official bodies.” These statements are false. As stated above, Balter follows the same journalistic methods, in which he has 42 years of experience, used by mainstream publications including the New York Times and his former employer Science. What rankles Kurin is that Balter often draws conclusions about the behavior of his reporting subjects and advocates certain measures be taken (such as, in her case, the denial of tenure at her institution, the University of California, Santa Barbara.) But Balter’s work is in the fine and proud tradition of “advocacy journalism,” long an important part of American journalism, in which the reporter is allowed to express their opinion about what measures should be taken as long as the reporting is sound, accurate, corroborated, and fair. For example, Balter repeatedly asked Kurin, in a series of emails, to comment on his findings and provide input into his reporting, including offering alternative interpretations to his own. Balter even offered to add in her comments after publication of his reports, to no avail. Kurin’s attorney is on the record as stating that she received these requests, but she did not respond to them.
8.     Plaintiff Kurin states that Balter has commented on Twitter (and elsewhere) that he has been unable to obtain libel insurance for his reporting. This is true. Kurin further states that the reason is the “content” of his reporting. In this statement, Kurin is attempting to mislead the Court into thinking that Balter’s difficulties getting liable insurance are due to falsehoods in his reporting. This is untrue. Balter has made it clear that insurance underwriters often do not want to cover content that is risky and controversial, regardless of its veracity. This is an ongoing problem in journalism today, and most journalists agree that the failure of insurance companies to spread the risk appropriately has a chilling effect on reporting on controversial subjects.
9.     Defendant Balter denies that he has ever published any libelous statements about Plaintiff Kurin on his blog or anywhere else. Balter stands by the accuracy of his reporting in all instances. Balter agrees that Kurin is an assistant professor at UCSB and directs the bioarchaeology lab there.
10.  Plaintiff Kurin makes the following statement: “Balter’s false and defamatory statements include alleging that Kurin was accused of sexual misconduct, that Kurin covered-up sexual misconduct, and that she was found ‘guilty’ of the same by her employer, UCSB.” Balter denies that he has made any false and defamatory statements about Kurin. But this statement, along with the following one (No. 11) gets to the heart of the issues in this litigation. Firstly, Balter has never stated that Kurin herself was accused of sexual misconduct, although Kurin apparently interprets the title of one of his blog posts of implying this (see below.) Balter has never said that Kurin herself sexually abused students. Rather, Balter has reported that Kurin was fully aware of such conduct by Diogenes Enmanuel Gomez Choque, with whom she has had a long relationship starting before she was married to him, and which, according to Balter’s reporting, has continued after the couple were supposedly separated. This reporting is based on multiple witnesses and sources and represents Balter’s honest conclusions based on that reporting. Balter does believe, based on his reporting, that Kurin did attempt to cover up Gomez’s abuses, including those that took place during a field school that Kurin directed in Peru in 2015 and another field school she directed in Peru in 2018 (see below for more details.) Indeed, Kurin’s employer, UCSB, came to a very similar conclusion in June 2016, when it concluded a Title IX investigation by finding that Kurin had retaliated against students who had reported sexual harassment by Gomez. Kurin attempts to deflect attention from this documented finding [Exh X] by failing to tell the Court anywhere in her complaint about this Title IX proceeding. Instead, she has attempts to mask the truth of the matter by inflating Balter’s use of the term “guilty” in this regard, insisting that she was never found “guilty” in any civil or criminal proceeding. Balter has no knowledge to the contrary; but his use of the word “guilty” was clearly in the colloquial rather than strictly legal sense. In fact, this is particularly obvious, because Balter described precisely the circumstance under which Kurin had been found to have committed misconduct, thus leaving no ambiguity in the minds of readers. The fact that Kurin and Balter disagree about the use of a particular word to describe misconduct which she has attempted to hide not only from her colleagues at UCSB and the archaeology community, but also from this Court, does not rise to defamation and cannot be considered evidence of such.
11.  Plaintiff Kurin states: “Balter has also published false statements that Kurin was married to an individual
convicted of raping college students, and that she repeatedly enabled her ex-husband to sexually abuse students.”            Defendant Balter has reported that while Kurin was married to Gomez, during her 2018 field school, Gomez sexually assaulted two female students, one so seriously that she is still traumatized to this day. This student, whom Balter has referred to as Student No. 3 to protect her identity, is still traumatized today and still seeking justice for what happened to her. At the time of the assault, Kurin tried to blame Student No. 3 for what happened, which adds to the evidence referred to above that Kurin attempted to cover up for Gomez. As for the raping of college students: Balter is currently researching serious allegations in Peru that Gomez, before he knew Kurin, was indeed convicted of rape. Gomez, of course, is not a party to this litigation, and Kurin cannot be held responsible for Gomez’s actions before she knew him. Any implication that Balter holds her responsible is incorrect, although Balter does maintain, through his detailed reporting, that Kurin became aware at some point early in their relationship of Gomez’s sexist and exploitative attitudes towards women and nevertheless not only maintained a relationship with him but actually married him. Finally, Kurin mentions another key issue in this litigation: Did she enable Gomez’s abuses? Balter’s reporting indicates that Gomez harassed or assaulted female students at nearly every field school Kurin has directed or codirected for nearly a decade, and that in many cases Kurin had knowledge of this behavior. In this sense, Balter stands by the use of the word “enabled,” because Kurin failed in her responsibilities to exercise due care of vulnerable students in her charge. Even if Kurin disagrees with Balter’s use of the word “enabled,” Balter’s use of it is a matter of his protected opinion and does not rise to the level of defamation.
12.  Defendant Balter maintains that all of his statements about Kurin are true to the best of his knowledge and belief, based on detailed reporting using documents and dozens of witness interviews.
13.  Plaintiff Kurin states that Defendant Balter wishes to make Kurin “another victim of cancel culture” by preventing her from obtaining tenure at UCSB and that he is doing this to enhance his own image. Although the term “cancel culture” is much in use at the moment, it is not relevant to this litigation, even if it suits Kurin’s purpose of attempting to portray herself as a victim of vicious and unscrupulous forces. As stated above, Defendant Balter has made it clear that he believes Kurin’s misconduct is so egregious, and that she is such a danger to students because of her refusal to protect them from a known sexual predator (Gomez), that she does not deserve tenure. This is Balter’s protected opinion, which cannot be used as evidence of defamation. Moreover, it is the opinion of many colleagues who have known Kurin over the years, and of most of the harassment and assault victims whom Balter has come to know through his reporting.


JURISDICTION AND VENUE


14.     Defendant Balter agrees that Plaintiff Kurin lives in Santa Barbara and Falls Church, VA, which is the home of her parents. Kurin’s father, Richard Kurin, an official of the Smithsonian Institution, is a potential witness in this litigation.
15.     Defendant Balter agrees that he is a resident of Westchester County and Croton-on-Hudson, NY.
16.     Balter agrees that he and Kurin are residents of different states, but denies that he is responsible for any damages Kurin has suffered as a result of her persistent misconduct.
17.     Any damages Kurin has suffered in this matter are entirely due to her own conduct and thus amount to zero dollars. Defendant Balter, with all due respect to the Court, reserves his right to challenge whether the Court has jurisdiction in this matter.
18.     Plaintiff Balter reserves his right to argue that the Court does not have jurisdiction in this matter, with all due respect to the Court.
19.     While Plaintiff Kurin has indeed suffered grievous injuries to her reputation, they are not the fault of Defendant Balter, but of her own making. Indeed, Defendant Balter will present evidence at trial, based on his own investigations and on legal discovery, that Kurin’s reputation had been badly damaged over a number of years before Balter had ever heard of her. This damage to her reputation occurred because of her negligence of students at her field schools, as described above and below; her abuse of students and even other faculty in the anthropology department at UC Santa Barbara, where she is employed; and even during her time as a graduate student at Vanderbilt University.
20.     Defendant Balter denies that any of his statements about Kurin were false or defamatory. Balter stands by his reporting. Balter agrees that he tried, and succeeded, to get the widest possible attention and media coverage of his reporting, as is the desire of all journalists working on cases of misconduct. This is to ensure that the reporting makes a real difference in the world and that abuses and injustices are corrected by those with the power to do so.
21.     Defendant Balter does not argue that this Court has jurisdiction over him as a person, although he reserves his right to challenge the Court’s jurisdiction in this particular matter for the reasons stated above.
22.     Please see No. 21.
23.  Defendant Balter agrees with Kurin’s descriptions of her professional titles.
24.  Defendant Balter has no direct knowledge of Kurin’s educational history, but sees no reason to disagree with her description of it.
25.  Defendant Balter agrees that Kurin has led field schools in Peru, but has no direct knowledge of her relationship with the agencies she mentions.
26.  Defendant Balter has no real argument with Kurin’s description of her professional accomplishments, although he is aware of a critical review of the book she mentions and, based on his conversations with other experts in her field, believes that she is not as highly regarded in her field as she seems to believe. Balter has had conversations with many faculty and students about Kurin, and he has concluded that her situation is really a tragedy. Kurin clearly does have substantial skills as a teacher and mentor, when she wants to, and exudes a certain charisma and charm. Those qualities have made the disappointment to many of her colleagues all the more painful when they have discovered the many cases in which she has committed misconduct and has blatantly lied about that misconduct, including lying to colleagues about the findings in the Title IX proceedings of 2016 (she told many that she had been “exonerated” by the process, which was flatly untrue.)
27.  On information and belief, Defendant Balter agrees with Kurin’s statements in this section.
28.  On information and belief, Defendant Balter agrees that Kurin is scheduled to begin her tenure process in September 2020.



DEFENDANT

29.     While Defendant Balter is currently a resident of Croton-on-Hudson, NY, some of the reporting for his posts on Kurin took place while he was a resident of Tarrytown, NY.
30.     Plaintiff Kurin states that Balter is a “self-described archaeology buff.” This is an inaccurate and misleading statement, designed to portray Balter to the Court as some sort of amateur. Balter began writing about archaeology for Science in the mid 1990s, around the time that Kurin would have been a young teenager. The first archaeology story he can recall writing was in 1996, and concerned a structure built by Neanderthals in a cave in France (see https://science.sciencemag.org/content/271/5248/449.1) Since then Balter has reported and written hundreds of archaeology stories for Science, Discover, Smithsonian, and other publications. Balter agrees in part that he is a “former” adjunct instructor of journalism, although he does not agree with Kurin’s implication that his career as a journalism teacher is somehow over.
31.     Balter agrees that he publishes a blog entitled “Balter’s Blog,” which began in 2008 as a venue for commenting on the election that gave us President Barack Obama.
32.     Plaintiff Kurin vastly understates the body of work Balter has produced over 42 years as a journalist, as noted above.
33.     Balter did not publish a “purported archaeology book” in 2005. Balter published a real archaeology book, entitled “The Goddess and the Bull.” The publisher was the Free Press, an imprint of the book publishing giant Simon and Schuster, and he received a $100,000 advance for it. The book was about the 9500 year old Neolithic village of Catalhoyuk in Turkey, which is not considered a city since urban conglomerations did not appear until at least 5000 years later.
34.      Beginning in this section, Plaintiff Kurin engages in a frankly silly, but blatantly false, attempt to discredit Balter as a serious archaeology writer by cherry-picking a few negative reviews on Amazon. If Kurin sought professional rather than amateur evaluations of the book, she only had to look at the back jacket cover for testimonials from some of the leading archaeologists and anthropologists in the world, including well known archaeologist and archaeology writer Brian Fagan, an emeritus professor from her own anthropology department at UCSB.

Brian Fagan, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara
Michael Balter takes us on a fascinating journey through the excavations at one of the world's great archaeological sites. He provides an engrossing chronicle of one of the world's earliest farming villages and of the personalities and thoughts of the archaeologists engaged in the research -- the human side of archaeology.
[Brian Fagan, from Kurin's own institution, is one of the most pre-eminent archaeology writers in the US. Full disclosure, I once profiled him for Science.]

Bruce Trigger, James McGill Professor, Department of Anthropology, McGill University, Montreal
A superb biography of a super archaeological site! Balter also demonstrates how this work is radically transforming what all archaeologists think and do. His carefully researched and compellingly written narrative, which makes readers feel as if they are there, will be read with pleasure and interest by professional archaeologists and all who are interested in archaeology. Balter's skillful weaving together of archaeological findings, the personalities and ambitions of a broad cast of archaeologists, and the evolution of archaeological thought makes this book a classic.
[The late Bruce Trigger was one of the most important historians and philosophers of archaeology.]

Ian Tattersall, Curator, Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History
Çatalhöyük is not only an archaeological site of tremendous importance, it is one with a dramatic history -- both ancient and modern -- that Balter tells with verve and an abundance of personal detail. His book is foremost about a site that offers unique insights into the origins of our own civilization; but at the same time it is an evocative portrayal of the process of archaeology itself.
[Ian Tattersall, one of the most foremost paleoanthropologists in the US, is now retired from the AMNH. Unfortunately, his replacement, Brian Richmond, turned out to be a sexual predator, the first one I reported on. He was later forced to resign from the museum.]

Colin Renfrew, Professor Emeritus, University of Cambridge
An engagingly personal account of one of the most ambitious excavation projects currently in progress, undertaken at one of the world's great archaeological sites; a revealing narrative of people and ideas at the working face of archaeology.
[Colin Renfrew is the most famous archaeologist in the United Kingdom, and known throughout the world for his studies of civilization and language]

Heather Pringle, author of The Mummy Congress
Erudite and meticulously researched, The Goddess and the Bull takes us behind the scenes of archaeology on the world stage, revealing the pitched political battles, the sometimes battered egos, and the stubborn quest for knowledge at one of the world's most important archaeological sites, Çatalhöyük.
[Heather Pringle is one of the US's most prolific archaeology writers, author of many books on the subject. Full disclosure, she is also a good friend of mine]


Last but not least, I believe that The Goddess and the Bull is the only archaeology book endorsed by a rock star. Here, from the back cover of the paperback edition:


David Bowie, Rock Musician
“I liked it very much. A little heavy on theory for my taste but exciting to read of what could have been the first town. I also approve of burying the dead under the floor. At least you'll remember where you put them.”

I tell the story of how Bowie came to read and comment on the book in this piece published after he died. The publisher of the paperback edition of the book, Mitch Allen of Left Coast Press (since purchased by Routledge) was not only highly amused but very pleased to read these comments by Bowie, because the fact that it was heavy on theory made it ideal for his marketing plan to sell it as an academic book to be used in university classes.)


Defendant Balter includes these comments from experts much more senior than Kurin not to try to convince the Court to buy his book, but to illustrate the bogus and easily disproved nature of her attempts to discredit an experienced archaeology writer and deflect attention from her own misdeeds, which have greatly harmed a significant number of students and endangered her tenure efforts at UCSB.

As for the specific point she tries to make in this section, it is false that in this book Balter focused on who the archaeologists “hooked up” with. The book was advertised as a “biography” of an archaeological site and thus the lives of the archaeologists themselves were a major part of the narrative. In telling their stories, it was natural to write about their important relationships which were often with other archaeologists. Kurin’s purpose here, to portray Balter as somehow unnaturally interested in the sex lives of others and thus motivated to make false statements about the subjects of his reporting, including Kurin, are totally false.
 35.     Plaintiff Kurin quotes an Amazon reviewer who criticizes Balter’s discussion, in his book, of the interpretation of an arrowhead which the late archaeologist Marija Gimbutas thougth represented a human pubis. Balter assumes that Kurin has enough archaeological training to know that Gimbutas’ contention that a Mother Goddess was worshipped at Catalhoyuk is controversial and was questioned by the last team that worked there, which is the subject of Balter’s book. Again, Kurin is attempting to mislead the Court into drawing certain conclusions about Balter’s focuses in his journalism that are completely untrue.
36.     Balter defers here to the remarks made in the previous section about his book, so as not to waste the Court’s time any further with Kurin’s frivolous attempts to mischaracterize the Defendant and his motivations.
37.     This section about Balter’s book demonstrates the dishonesty with which Plaintiff Kurin has described his motivations and attitudes. The passage she quotes clearly states that the “voyeuristic” tendencies referred to, somewhat jokingly, were those of the archaeologists reading each others’ diaries and not those of Balter himself. Kurin’s attempts to use a highly rated archaeology book, still in print after 15 years, which has been widely used in archaeology classes (including in Turkey, where it is also used in archaeology classes to this day and sold in bookstores in Istanbul), against the Defendant are illustrative of the fully dishonest case she attempts to put before this Court.
38.  Kurin makes the following statement:  In 2016, Science Magazine terminated Balter’s 25-year career with the
publication for misconduct and a “breakdown of trust” after he accused a professor of exaggerated charges of sexual harassment and hounded the accused, his friends, family, and colleagues.” In this and following sections of the Complaint, Plaintiff Kurin makes a startling series of admissions of her total bias towards and sympathy with abusers who have been found “guilty” of misconduct by their own institutions and subjected to severe discipline. To deal first with Balter’s relationship with Science: It is true that in 2016 Science terminated Balter’s contract after 25 years during which he produced nearly 900 articles on a wide variety of subjects, all of which are still on the journal’s Web site. However, Kurin defames Balter, and is flatly wrong, when she says it was for misconduct. Not only is that not true but Kurin provides no evidence for it, because there is none. Kurin also dishonestly quotes the phrase “breakdown of trust” when those words, offered as a commentary to a publication covering the termination by Science’s news editor Tim Appenzeller, are an incomplete quote. The actual quote from Appenzeller, who otherwise made little comment on the dispute, can be found in this article in the science publication Undark: https://undark.org/2016/03/17/writers-editors-science-popular-science/.

The full passage that Kurin selectively and dishonestly quotes from is as follows:

“Appenzeller told me in an email on March 14th that “Michael’s termination says nothing about Science’s commitment to covering sexual harassment,” and “his parting with Science has nothing to do with the published story.” The preparation of the story “brought to a head a long-standing, mutual loss of trust,” Appenzeller wrote.
Balter has a history of public disagreements with Science. In 2014, he protested the firing of four female colleagues by taking a three-month leave of absence. And in mid-January, he wrote a series of tweets critical of the handling of the Richmond story…”
Defendant Balter notes that there was no mention of “misconduct,” an allegation that Kurin has made up out of whole cloth. Rather, there was a mutual loss of trust, and this brief description of the reasons for it is sufficient to contradict Kurin’s false implications. It also provides background for Kurin’s craven identification with sexual abusers. The story referred to is that of Brian Richmond, former curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Science assigned Balter, who was teaching at NYU at the time, to investigate allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Richmond. Balter’s reporting, even before it was published, induced the museum to begin its own investigation, which ultimately led to Richmond’s resignation in December of 2016. The charges were not “exaggerated,” as Kurin states, and Balter did not “hound” Richmond, nor his family and colleagues. In fact, Richmond was quoted in multiple places, and at length, in the article in an attempt to defend himself and in Balter’s and Science’s attempts to be fair to him. As for his colleagues, the anthropology community rallied around the attempts to get at the truth of Richmond’s misconduct, as described in the Science article that Balter wrote and reported and whose integrity editor Appenzeller defends above: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/02/sexual-misconduct-case-has-rocked-anthropology. (Balter consulted with more than 60 sources in the anthropology community for this article, all of whom willingly provided input and details for the story.) Balter feels compelled to ask the Court to indulge all of the details above because they provide a very clear example of the way Kurin has completely stretched the truth into an unrecognizable shape to fulfill her goal of scapegoating the reporter who has exposed her misconduct.
39.  Please see the response to No. 38 above which covers the bogus claims Kurin makes in this section.
40.  Balter denies that he is motivated by voyeurism. It is true that Balter has investigated dozens of cases of actual misconduct in academia, including sexual harassment, bullying, and retaliation, using the journalistic techniques described above. As also stated above, these fact-based investigations have often led to the termination or resignation of the abusers. While Kurin should know, based on the publications of scholars in her own field and that of anthropology, that sexual misconduct is a very serious problem, especially at field schools like the ones she has run in Peru, Kurin tries to pretend that these are all fantasies of Balter’s fevered imagination. The facts show otherwise.
41.  Balter agrees that he maintains, on his blog, a “Rogue’s Gallery” of abusers. These are limited to the cases that he has actually worked on, and Balter stands by the reporting in each and every case, including Kurin’s. A look at the links provided in the individual stories shows the long and serious research they represent.


           







Thursday, August 6, 2020

BethAnn McLaughlin, allies and enablers, continued harassment of #MeToo reporter, amended complaint in Kurin v. Balter [Updated August 7, 2020]

BethAnn McLaughlin (aka @McLNeuro, aka "Alepo"
By now this photo of neuroscientist BethAnn McLaughlin should be familiar to many, especially readers of this blog. The story of her pretending to be a Hopi anthropologist at Arizona State University named "Alepo" (Twitter handle @Sciencing_Bi) has now been told by the New York Times, Science, Inside Higher Education (a particularly detailed account by Colleen Flaherty), BuzzFeed (by Peter Aldhous, who broke some of the earliest stories about McLaughlin's imperious "leadership" of the #MeTooSTEM movement), and numerous other publications.

My own reporting on McLaughlin has been restricted to one particularly egregious episode, when she threatened to sue Science Writers in New York if we held a panel for journalists about reporting on #MeTooSTEM issues. Out of an overabundance of precaution, SWINY's leaders cancelled the event (over my objections, for the record.)

During my own #MeTooSTEM reporting, which I have carried out continuously for the last five years, I have encountered McLaughlin on Twitter from time to time, usually when she was attacking me for allegedly exploiting victims of sexual abuse or "centering" myself in my reporting (an accusation that has often been repeated by a small number of #MeToo activists and all too often believed by those who do not know the facts.) More on that in a moment.

But I only recall one encounter with "Alepo," back when no one had any idea that McLaughlin's now deceased alter ego (she supposedly died from COVID-19, and McLaughlin held a small Zoom memorial service for her) was actually McLaughlin herself. That was in spring 2019, when I escorted sexual predator David Yesner, formerly of the University of Alaska, out of the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Albuquerque. That turned into a celebrated episode, widely covered by the scientific press, and led to a large movement (still ongoing) among archaeologists to either reform or abandon the SAA for its lackadaisical attitudes towards the victims of sexual abuse in archaeology.

In a Twitter thread, "Alepo" criticized me for the stand I took at the SAA meeting, suggesting that it was another example of my "centering" myself over victims and survivors. A few others had suggested that I was "grandstanding" when I did what I hope anyone else would have done. The falsehood was so blatant that a University of Alaska faculty member and one of the survivors of Yesner's abuse felt compelled to respond to "Alepo" and point out that I had acted at the request of the survivors, who asked for help dealing with Yesner so that they could feel safe attending the sessions they wanted to (which Yesner, being in the same basic research area, was also attending.)

I have a point by mentioning all this, and it's not to talk about myself, much as I have been accused of that over the past five years. The point is that many scientists and academics whose solidarity with #MeToo activism is not in doubt have nevertheless had a difficult time distinguishing allies from enablers of abuse, or allies from individuals--like BethAnn McLaughlin--who really are in this movement for themselves and for the aggrandizement of their own egos. I will not mention any names, but a number of those who are now shouting loudly about how they were betrayed by McLaughlin's mendacity cheered on both her and "Alepo" for a long time, including--sometimes especially--their attacks on people, including reporters like me, who are proven allies in this struggle.

Everyone involved has to think about that, because McLaughlin is NOT an aberration but a symptom of a serious problem in this and perhaps all movements: It is easy to attack those who have little power, and engage in internecine warfare, and much harder to go up against those who wield the real power and run the patriarchal system for their own ends.

I am happy to see that a number of honest activists have been making this same point over the past few days, and I hope this time it will stick.


Kurin v. Balter: An enabler of sexual abuse ramps up her campaign against the reporter who exposed her.

Readers of this blog are also well aware that I have been sued for $10 million in defamation damages (marked down by the court from the original $18 million demand) by University of California, Santa Barbara archaeologist Danielle Kurin. Kurin, who is up for tenure beginning next month, is trying to blame me and my reporting for the fact that she may not get it. While all I have done is accurately and honestly reported on her thoroughly documented misconduct, Kurin is trying to deflect from her own misdeeds. Unfortunately for her, members of her department are now well aware of the truth of what I have reported, and thus this strategy is already backfiring on her (for details and backlinks about this case, please start with this post and work backwards.)

Kurin's attorney, David Scher of the Hoyer Law Group, has just filed an amended complaint in the case, in which my continuing coverage of her and the lawsuit are used to try to demonstrate that I have "actual malice" towards her (the pdf file is available on some court reporting Web sites, but I will post it on this blog once I have had a chance to convert it.) Unfortunately for Scher and his client, truth is an absolute defense to defamation cases in both state and federal courts (this one is in the Southern District for New York) and thus the malice issue will not be relevant in the end.

I am working on my Answer to the Complaint, which will not only demonstrate the many falsehoods in the original, but also include many previously unreported details about her abuses, bullying, attempts at retaliation, and other misconduct. She cannot win this, but she is trying to cause me as much pain as possible. In doing so, she is attacking freedom of the press and the truth itself. That is a battle I think any reporter should welcome.

One of Kurin's assertions is that I am motivated in part by a lascivious interest in people's sex lives, and that is why I am a #MeToo reporter. On that point, and as an addition to my remarks above about BethAnn McLaughlin and her enablers, I asked Martina Brostrom if she would write a testimonial about my #MeToo reporting to include in my Answer to the lawsuit. Martina, whose name is probably not well known outside of Europe, is a former staff member of the United Nations agency UNAIDS who was sexually assaulted by her supervisor. When she complained about it, a long campaign of retaliation began, which eventually led to her being fired. (Martina was earlier featured on Christiane Amanpour's CNN program, where she got a chance to tell her story.)

I was the first to break the news of Martina's case, on social media, where I often break news of new #MeToo allegations. She had told me that one day, when it was most effective, she would tell the world about the role I played. (I did not seek to do a big investigation myself, but tried to interest other reporters based in the US about it, to little avail. Some of those journalists would check with their "sources" at UNAIDS--individuals directly involved in the retaliation campaign against Martina--who would say the allegations were bogus.)

The other day Martina asked me what she could do to help with the lawsuit. I said that if she was going to reveal my early role in the story, now was the time. I will be including what she has to say below in the lawsuit, but please forgive me if I also post this as a riposte to the critics who have believed the falsehoods of McLaughlin, "Alepo," and a few other gatekeepers (especially in anthropology and archaeology) who have sung their tune. In doing so, they have sought to deprive victims and survivors of the investigative skills of a reporter with 42 years of experience, and who has investigated more #MeToo cases than any other reporter--as much as he salutes the hard work of those other colleagues who have also chosen this sometimes thankless beat.



                                                                                                                                     [August 4, 2020]
To whom it may concern,

My name is Martina Brostrom. I am former civil servant of the United Nations and a victim and survivor of sexual assault. My case has attracted media attention across continents and mobilised civil society, academics and legal experts alike. Some credit my case to have triggered a metoo movement in the United Nations. Following an assault I suffered in 2015, I reported it to management for action. Rather than implementing the applicable rules and offering me the support the organisational policies provided for, I became subjected to severe and systemic retaliation. The assault and the retaliation are now subject of an international lawsuit.

I came in contact with Michael Balter after he had been tipped off about my story by a person who continues to remain anonymous to me. Despite being in a phase of my life when I had suffered sexual assault, was deeply anxious, under distress and living terrible retaliation from my employer for reporting the assault, I found myself trusting Michael Balter and wanting to share my story with him. Once I started engaging with Michael Balter, this trust developed into a profound respect for his journalism. Michael was the journalist who first broke my story to the public about what had happened to me and my struggle for justice and accountability. Michael Balter has always believed in me, taken time to listen and has always and consistently been very sensitive and respectful in his reporting and in discussing very personal and private matters with me. Never once has he made me feel uncomfortable or felt as if my integrity was infringed or questioned. As a victim of sexual assault this has been particularly important to me. Something I really have appreciated over the years is how Michael Balter has never abandoned my story but continued to cover and closely monitor it. With complete professionalism and uncompromised integrity, Michael Balter has always tried to bring attention to my story and other stories of victims and survivors of abuse and assault. I am very grateful to have crossed paths with Michael Balter, who continues to be an ally for metoo, women’s rights and for victims and survivors of sexual assault in their pursuit for justice- a cause we jointly share.             

Martina Brostrom



The archaeologist whose husband repeatedly harassed and assaulted students continues her harassment of the reporter who exposed her failure to protect vulnerable colleagues.


Just yesterday Danielle Kurin's attorney, David Scher, sent me a "courtesy" copy of this New York freedom of information request to my former employer, City College of New York,  where I taught journalism all last year to undergraduates. It's purpose is obvious, so I will just make a couple of comments on it. First, of course, he will find nothing--no student complaints, no Title IX complaints, no evidence of misconduct on my part whatsoever. I was laid off along with 2800 other adjuncts due to the budget crisis caused by the pandemic. He will find out, however, that I received the highest student evaluation scores of my entire teaching career, which includes a year teaching journalism at Boston University and six years teaching journalism at New York University (both at the graduate level.)

But what if he did find something? What if I was subject to just as many Title IX filings as Danielle Kurin (at least five at last count)? It would change nothing about the accuracy of my reporting about her. This kind of harassment cannot work, and will not work. If you agree, please contribute to my GoFundMe for the extensive legal expenses required to protect freedom of the press and the rights of survivors to tell their stories.







August 5, 2020

Via Email 

University Central Office 
Records Access Officer 
205 East 42nd Street 
New York, NY 10017
 CUNY.RecordsOfficer@cuny.edu 
The City College of New York

Paul F. Occhiogrosso, Esq. 
Records Access Officer 
Executive Counsel to the President 
Wille Administration Building, Rm. 200 
160 Convent Avenue 
New York, NY 10031
 pocchiogrosso@ccny.cuny.edu 
Craig Newmark Graduate School Of Journalism At CUNY

Amy Dunkin 
Records Access Officer 
Director of Academic Operations & Title IX Coordinator 
219 W. 40th Street, Room 415 
New York, NY 10018 
amy.dunkin@journalism.cuny.edu


RE: NY Freedom of Information Law Request for Michael Balter 
Dear CUNY Records Access Officers: 
Pursuant to the New York Freedom of Information Law, N.Y. Pub. Off. Law §§ 84 to 99, I write to request access to and a copy of all records relating to Michael Balter (“Mr. Balter”). I understand Mr. Balter previously taught journalism for the City University of New York. 
I am specifically requesting that you include in your response to this request all: 
  • • Correspondence to or from Mr. Balter or regarding Mr. Balter; 
  • • Mr. Balter’s personnel file; 
Page | 2 


  • • Any complaints regarding Mr. Balter; 
  • • Any records relating in any way to Title IX complaints or investigations relating to Mr. Balter; and 
  • • Any materials relating directly to Mr. Balter’s termination or the non-renewal of his employment agreement. I realize that you may have an abundance of records relating to this last item, given the larger layoffs and furloughs that recently took place. I request only documents relating specifically to Mr. Balter as an individual. 

If your agency does not maintain these public records, please let me know who does and include the proper custodian’s name and address.
I agree to pay any reasonable copying and postage fees of not more than $500. If the cost would be greater than this amount, please notify me. Please provide a receipt indicating the charges for each document.
As provided by the open records law, I will expect your response within five (5) business days. See N.Y. Pub. Off. Law § 89(3).
If you choose to deny this request, please provide a written explanation for the denial including a reference to the specific statutory exemption(s) upon which you rely. Also, please provide all segregable portions of otherwise exempt material. 

I would note that an unreasonable violation of the open records law can result in the award of court costs and reasonable attorney fees. See N.Y. Pub. Off. Law Sec. 89(4)(c). 

Sincerely, 

Hoyer Law Group, PLLC 

/s/ David Fulleborn 
David Fulleborn, Esq 



Addendum: The Confessions of a #MeToo Reporter. (Please click on the link.)


Update August 7, 2020: CUNY tells Kurin's lawyers no documents forthcoming. Attempts at harassment and intimidation not working well.

Sent as a "courtesy" by David Scher, it appears that his request for my employee records at City College of New York is not going well. As I explained to Scher, I did not work at the Newmark journalism school, but at the journalism program at City College of New York.


From: Lori Fox <Lori.Fox@cuny.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, August 5, 2020 9:02 PM
Cc: amy.dunkin@JOURNALISM.CUNY.EDU
Subject: FW: FOIL Request


This will respond to your FOIL request, below. 

Mr. Balter has not been an employee of the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, thus we have no employment records. 

Pursuant to §87(2)(b), we will not provide you with copies of any correspondence between the School and Mr. Balter because doing so would violate his personal privacy. 

If you disagree with any ruling made in connection with this request, you can appeal to the Office of the General Counsel at the CUNY Central Office,  205 East 42nd Street, New York, New York 10017.


Lori Fox

CUNY employees are working remotely; mail to my office is unreliable.  Please send all communications by email.

Executive Counsel, CUNY School of Law, Guttman Community College, Macaulay Honors College & Newmark School of Journalism