Kurin v. Balter: A journalist sued for defamation answers the allegations. Some highlights.

Yesterday I filed my formal Answer to the defamation suit brought against me by Danielle Kurin, an archaeologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara who by now will be familiar (perhaps too familiar) to readers of this  blog. The case is in the famous Southern District of New York (filed in federal court because the parties live in different states and the claimed damages exceed $75,000--about $10 million not counting the punitive damages Kurin has demanded.)

You can read the entire thing at the link given above, but given the important First Amendment and #MeToo issues involved, I thought I would provide some key excerpts here.

And if you agree with my side of the argument, please consider contributing to my GoFundMe for legal expenses. What is at stake?  Freedom of the press, and the rights of survivors to tell their stories without fear of retaliation and intimidation.


In September 2019, Michael Balter, the defendant in this litigation, was contacted by an archaeologist and asked to look into allegations of misconduct by University of California, Santa Barbara archaeologist Danielle Kurin. The archaeologist contacted Balter on behalf of a small group of colleagues who were concerned that Kurin was returning to work at UCSB after a three year administrative leave. They chose to contact Balter because, as a journalist with 42 years of experience, he had in recent years gained a reputation as a “#MeToo reporter,” focusing on misconduct in academia. The archaeologists had direct contact with at least one student who said she had been sexually assaulted by Kurin’s partner and later husband, Peruvian archaeologist Enmanuel Gomez Choque. Balter was also told that Kurin had been investigated by UCSB and placed on administrative leave as a result, although they did not have all the details.

The archaeologists were concerned that with Kurin’s return to work at UCSB, as they put it to Balter, she was still a “danger to students” because she had retaliated against students who reported Gomez for sexual harassment under the rubric of Title IX of the U.S. education laws. They were worried that Kurin would continue to recruit students to the field school in Peru where the assaults and harassment took place (at the time they contacted Balter, September 2019, Kurin was still married to Gomez, although a divorce was pending.)

Balter agreed to investigate the claims. Over the next several months, he interviewed many witnesses, and established that the allegations were substantially true. He also made a request, on September 18, 2019, to UCSB for the Title IX documents and any other misconduct investigations of Kurin and Gomez under the California Public Records Act. Balter received those documents on February 18, 2020. Beginning in January, he began to ask Kurin, by email, to respond to the allegations and to accord him an interview to discuss them and provide her side of the story. Balter made a total of four such email requests between January and March; Kurin did not respond to any of them.

In February 2020, and again the following month, Balter published extensive reports, thoroughly documented and including a large number of witness interviews, about his findings. Balter has continued to publish updates, including about alleged abuses of students by Kurin at UCSB itself even before the Title IX proceeding referenced above, to the present day. All of this alleged misconduct took place before Balter first learned of Kurin’s existence in September 2019, and had already caused considerable harm to Kurin’s reputation and standing in the academic community without any action or input from Balter.

In June 2020, Kurin sued Balter for defamation, alleging that he had defamed her, acted with malice and reckless disregard of the facts. In the Answer below, Balter rejects and denies each and every allegation against him. Balter further believes that this litigation is brought frivolously and with the intent to mislead this Court, and that it’s real purpose is to attempt to silence Balter’s reporting as Kurin goes up for tenure at UCSB beginning in September 2020. Balter also believes that this lawsuit is not just intended to silence Balter’s protected journalism under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but also intended to intimidate and silence victims and survivors of her proven misconduct. Finally, Balter believes that Kurin is hoping to also intimidate her colleagues in the UCSB anthropology department, and the university itself, into giving her tenure despite her long record of demonstrated misconduct, including retaliation against and abuse of students.

In her Complaint, Kurin actively seeks to hide from this Court key facts that would allow it to fairly evaluate her claims, including the documented fact that she was found to have committed misconduct by her own institution in 2016. In this Answer, Defendant Balter seeks to set the record straight, and asks the Court to rule against the Plaintiff on all matters in dispute."

"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 untrue. 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."

"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.
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 vogue 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. Balter contends, on information and belief, that this is also the opinion of many members of Kurin’s own anthropology department at UCSB, based on their knowledge of alleged abuses of students going back as early as at least 2014, when students first began to complain of such alleged abuses (See, for example, http://michael-balter.blogspot.com/2020/08/university-of-california-santa-barbara.html and http://michael-balter.blogspot.com/2020/08/university-of-california-santa-barbara_13.html, where examples of Kurin’s alleged early abuses are reported.)"

[One of the most egregious examples of Kurin's identification with and defense of proven  sexual predators:]

"42. Kurin makes the following statement: “In April of 2019, Balter was forcibly detained by security and then ejected from a Society for American Archeology annual conference after he tried to physically assault an alleged sexual harasser at a conference and refused to calm down or disengage and behave himself in a civil manner.” Everything in this statement is false, and if Kurin had simply read the article in The Scientist she links to she would know thatmaking her statement recklessly false. First, let’s identify the “alleged sexual harasser.” He is David Yesner, a former archaeologist at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, who was found in a Title IX proceeding to have sexually assaulted and harassed numerous students over a period of decades (see https://www.ktva.com/story/40180592/title-ix-investigation-reveals-decades-of-sexual-misconduct-by-former-uaa-professor.) As a result of these findings, Yesner was denied emeritus status at the university when he retired; Yesner was banned from stepping foot on any University of Alaska campus; and Yesner was banned from participating in any activity anywhere in the world where University of Alaska students were participating (see https://www.ktva.com/story/40272991/uaa-police-former-professor-accused-of-sexual-misconduct-banned-from-university-property-events.) In citing this case Kurin continues to demonstrate her apparent sympathy for sexual predators, whose side she takes in multiple instances in signing her name to this Complaint. Next, let’s address the falsehoods concerning Defendant Balter. In fact, Balter was not detained by security (no security personnel were involved in this episode at any time;) Balter did not try to physically assault Yesner but rather escorted him out of the meeting using the power of embarrassment (Yesner agreed to leave, although he came back later.) The reason Balter did this is that some of his victims were in attendance at the meeting, and they asked Balter for help in dealing with the situation because Yesner was attending sessions of the meeting they wished to attend and they were afraid to be near him. When officials of the Society for American Archaeology were notified of the situation, they allowed Yesner back into the meeting and banned Balter from the meeting (this was the following day.) The mishandling of this situation by SAA led to an uproar among archaeologists, who condemned the failure of SAA officials to protect Yesner’s victims and for banning Balter from the meeting. The whole episode led to months of campaigning by archaeologists to get the SAA to improve its policies, and also led many SAA members to resign their memberships.(Shortly after the April events, SAA did indeed ban Yesner from the organization and all of its meetings and events.) A good summary of events can be found in this article by Lizzie Wade, a correspondent for Science who took over much of Balter’s archaeology coverage when his contract at the journal was terminated: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/04/metoo-controversy-erupts-archaeology-meeting. The use (or rather misuse) of this episode by Kurin reflects not only her disdain for the victims of sexual misconduct, which we have seen in her own personal conduct regarding the misdeeds of her former husband Gomez, but also her disdain for basic facts demonstrated in nearly every section of her Complaint. It also goes to the question of whether Defendant Balter was on firm ground when he reported his conclusion that Kurin had enabled sexual abuse, and provides strong supporting evidence for that inference."

"50. Plaintiff Kurin makes the following statement: “UCSB never charged Kurin with sexual harassment or enabling a sexual harasser, and Gomez was never charged with any crime in either the United States or Peru.” This statement is clearly designed to mislead the Court. As Defendant Balter pointed out above, one of the most egregious abuses of the judicial process committed by Kurin is her failure to tell the Court that she and Gomez were subject to Title IX proceedings at UCSB and to tell the Court the results of those proceedings. Kurin thus seeks to deny the Court information and context that are absolutely crucial to judging the validity of her claims against Balter. This can only be seen as desperation on her part, because she must have known that Balter would bring this history to the attention of the Court. As for whether UCSB charged Kurin with sexual harassment or “enabling” a sexual harasser, Kurin again attempts to muddy the waters. Balter has never stated that Kurin herself had sexually harassed anyone. But Balter’s statements that she “enabled” a sexual harasser are clearly born out by the evidence, evaluated in the Title IX investigation, that she had retaliated against students who reported Gomez. In that sense, she not only attempted to cover up Gomez’s misconduct, but made it possible for her and Gomez to continue hosting students at their field schools in Peru. This led directly to the sexual assaults in 2018, which, Balter contends as his protected opinion, would not have happened had Kurin dissociated herself from Gomez after 2016. Instead, she married him."

"55. In this section, Plaintiff Kurin refers to an “incident” that “allegedly occurred” at her 2018 field school in Peru, involving Gomez and some other Peruvians. It is telling that Kurin fails to say what the incident consisted of. In reality, Gomez sexually assaulted at least two students during the field school season, including oneat the very end of the seasonwho is still traumatized today by her experiences. Kurin’s statement that she “immediately reported” the incident to “appropriate authorities” is false and misleading. As Balter has reported, at a meeting of some of the field school students and teaching assistants the next day after the “incident,” Kurin attempted to placate the students and actually blamed the assaulted studentwhom Baltecalled Student No. 3 in his reporting, to protect her identityfor what had happened to her. A recording of this meeting, which the students made with Kurin’s knowledge, is in Balter’s possession and reveals a very different picture than that falsely given by Kurin to this Court. It is true that Kurin reported the incident to officials of the Institute for Field Research, which had sponsored the field school, but ONLY after the students made it clear that they were going to make their own report to IFR. Balter does not know the extent to which Kurin eventually cooperated with the inquiry by IFR, but intends to explore that question via legal discovery. 

56.It is true that UCSB was not involved in the 2018 incident at the time, although more recently a number of individuals, including Student No. 3, have filed Title IX complaints against Kurin. Balter will update the Court on those filings below. Although Balter does not have direct confirmation, he believes that Gomez was found to have engaged in “inappropriate behavior,” if sexual assault can be fairly described that way. On information and belief, IFR did find that Kurin had herself behaved inappropriately, on at least two counts: She allowed the drunken Gomez to enter the house where Student No. 3 was sheltering after the assault, and she failed to provide a safe environment for the students. Finally, IFR did not end its relationship with Kurin’s field program, it ended its relationship with Kurin herself. Kurin’s statement that this was “without prejudice” is absolutely false. As IFR executive director Ran Boytner put it in a note to the field school students on October 17, 2019after the investigation was completed:

'We have completed our investigation into complaints of alleged inappropriate behavior during the night of July 13-14 at the Peru-Wari field school. Our investigation was conducted promptly, thoroughly and confidentially, as is our practice. In our investigation we did substantiate that inappropriate behavior occurred. Such conduct violates IFR policy and standards of conduct.The IFR will no longer work with Dr. Danielle Kurin, the director of the field school. At this point, we consider the investigation closed. Sincerely, Ran Boytner Executive Director.' 

"During a recent “Town Hall’ at UCLA held to discuss matters concerning how IFR had handled incidents of sexual abuse, and the reasons why Boytner was no longer executive director, IFR board members confirmed the statement above that IFR would no longer work with Kurin. For example, IFR academic board member Jason de Leon of UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology made the following statement at the meeting: 'When the field school ran again in 2018, and then for the first time IFR received notice of what had been going on, we conducted a very thorough investigation and found that, you know, that bad things had happened and that she should not be near students at all, and we immediately cut ties with her.' At that same meeting, Willeke Wendrich, director of the Cotsen Institute and chair of the IFR governing board, made the following statement:  'After IFR found out of the problem in the field school in 2018, we severed all ties with Danielle Kurin.' (For the partial transcript of this meeting, see: http://michael-balter.blogspot.com/2020/06/a-ucla-town-hall-on-meto-and-related.html)"

As always, I will keep readers updated on this lawsuit as it proceeds, along with any other relevant news.

Post a Comment


Anonymous said…
“we conducted a very thorough investigation and found that, you know, that bad things had happened and that she should not be near students at all.”
Bravo, Jason de Leon. Now that’s a well-deserved Genius grant!
Anonymous said…
Good luck Michael. At this point anyone who is not totally corrupt knows that you are in the right, but unfortunately justice does not always prevail in our legal system (especially when the wealthy are involved). Do keep us all informed.