As readers of this blog know, I am the defendant in a defamation suit filed against me by Danielle Kurin, an archaeologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for my reporting on her alleged history of abuses and misconduct. In two main reports earlier this year, and a series of followup articles over the subsequent months, I published solid evidence for her history of abusing students and retaliating against students who reported sexual harassment and assault by her ex-husband. It's a long and complicated story, and Kurin is now up for tenure in the UCSB anthropology department. My personal belief is that the main purpose of this lawsuit is to make a show to her department that she is defending herself against what she considers false allegations, and that she is also trying to silence me and intimidate my sources and other witnesses.
Those efforts have not been successful. Not only have I continued to report about Kurin, but the lawsuit has actually emboldened new victims of, and witnesses to, her misconduct to come forward.
Because Kurin's case is sure to fail on the merits, she and her attorney have concentrated most of their efforts, both in public statements and in legal discovery, in proving that I am not a "real" journalist but some sort of "cyberbully" who has thrown journalistic ethics to the wind. This has led them to drag in all sorts of irrelevant matters into the lawsuit: They have demanded to see my teaching evaluations at the three universities where I have taught journalism; they have demanded a list of all my articles over the past 42 years of my journalism career; and they have demanded to know the names of all my sources for my reporting about Kurin, including individuals to whom I have promised confidentiality (we have refused that latter request.)
To make matters worse, as evidence of my allegedly unethical journalism, Kurin and her attorney, in their Complaint against me, accused me of unfairly harassing several academics who were fired or forced to resign after their own institutions found them to have committed serious misconduct.
Recently, through this litigation and the witnesses disclosed by Danielle Kurin, I became aware of a misconduct complaint filed against me with the National Association of Science Writers, an organization I have belonged to since 1986. This is the main professional organization for science journalists and science and medical oriented public relations officers. I have been an active member, attending meetings and until recently writing the "Our Gang" column for the NASW's bulletin, ScienceWriters.
Although the misconduct complaint is supposed to be confidential and even I am not supposed to know about it at this early stage, I am now aware of its content, which involves a recent controversy in which I was involved (and which had considerable online exposure.) Nevertheless, my legal team and I learned of the very existence of the complaint when Kurin and her attorneys listed two individuals apparently directly involved in it as witnesses in the lawsuit (both sides are obligated to disclose the names of their witnesses to their opponents, as per civil procedure in litigation).
Both of these witnesses are members of NASW; although the lists of witnesses in the lawsuit are not confidential, I am not going to name either of them at this time. If the complaint reaches the stage where NASW believes I have a case to answer, the allegations will be formally presented to me and I will have the chance to (vigorously) refute them.
However, on December 2, Kurin and her attorney served NASW with a subpoena demanding all records of any and all complaints against me, as well as all of my membership records.
On December 18, NASW's outside counsel responded to the subpoena, rejecting each and every demand. A number of reasons were given, including the burdensomeness of the demands on an organization that has one paid staff member, but the two most important ones in my view were:
--The subpoena seeks to disclose confidential, internal matters that NASW has a right to keep secret. As the NASW counsel pointed out, if third parties could be forced to reveal the details of their complaint processes including who has made the complaints, it would have a chilling effect on the rights of complainants to have their issues heard.
--The subpoena seeks information that is irrelevant to the issues in the lawsuit. As noted above, this is clearly true. Kurin and her attorney are on a wide-ranging fishing expedition to discover any possible negative information about me, in hopes that they will be able to convince a court or a jury that I am an unethical journalist. And it is true that as a #MeToo reporter I have been involved in a number of controversies, which simply goes with the territory. But the lawsuit really rises and falls on one issue and one issue only: Did I defame or publish false information about Danielle Kurin in my reporting about her? The answer is no, and all else is extraneous.
Even though I am in the uncomfortable position of having my conduct investigated by my own organization, I am proud of NASW for taking this firm stand against efforts by outside litigants to interfere in our internal affairs. This sets a good precedent in such situations. And I know my NASW colleagues will be fair in how they handle this and will give me every chance to respond to the allegations if need be.
If the investigation proceeds to the stage where I must answer the charges, I will defend myself publicly as the process will no longer be confidential. But for now, the organization I belong to has taken a stand against frivolous abuse of the discovery process, which is good news for journalists and the vulnerable people they write about.
Update Dec 21: I have tried to take the high road here, but the complaint against me with NASW has now come into my possession, along with its "supporting" materials, because either one (or more) of the complainants and/or Kurin herself is trying to get it out there publicly. The complaint is filled with falsehoods and distortions and at the appropriate time I will publicly defend myself against the allegations, if it gets that far. But I do wonder if those who signed this complaint, and those who provided materials for it, wanted me to know who they were and see all of the documents that were used to try to smear me and my #MeToo reporting, and along with it the dozens of survivors who have asked me to help tell their stories over the past five years.
Update Dec 22: Over the past 24 hours, three Twitter "sock puppet" accounts were created by one or more individuals reacting to this blog post. Two of them came online shortly after the blog was posted, and a third--which was quickly deleted--towards the end of the day. The two active accounts had certain things in common: They possessed the complaint against me filed with NASW, referred to above, AND they possessed materials from the lawsuit that only I, my lawyers, Danielle Kurin, and her lawyers, had access to as a result of legal discovery. The sock puppet accounts repeatedly posted the NASW complaint, despite the fact that it was supposed to be a confidential document under NASW bylaws, and even attempted to post it in the comments section of this blog post.
According to the bylaws of NASW, anyone has the right to file a complaint against a member, and I support that right--even though in this case I am the target of it. Our organization has detailed due process procedures, including, of course, the right of the person accused to respond to allegations if need be. We recently made changes in these very rules to make them more rigorous and fair, and I voted for those changes along with a majority of NASW members.
I think everyone can connect the dots here. I think the issues internal to NASW will be resolved, one way or the other, fairly soon, and I know that NASW members will want our due process procedures to be followed to the letter. They will not want confidential documents to be shared with the litigant in a lawsuit that has nothing to do with NASW, and they will not want to be used cynically by parties who do not have the best interest of survivors and science journalists at heart.
Further update Dec 22: Just a few days after NASW's counsel rejected the subpoena from Danielle Kurin, her attorneys have withdrawn it. They had the choice of going into court for a motion to compel the turning over of documents, but evidently decided against taking that course.
Update Dec 24: The "confidential" NASW complaint continues to reach an ever larger circulation online. I should point out at this stage that the four individuals whose experiences with me are given as "examples" in the complaint are all anthropologists, two of whom have been involved in a coordinated effort to discredit my #MeToo reporting for the last three years, and two who have actively joined that campaign more recently. All four, and the NASW member who organized the complaint, are on Kurin's witness list, which was disclosed to us earlier this month.
In better news, Happy Holidays to all. Stay safe!
Update January 7, 2021: I have now written to NASW asking that the ethics complaint against me, filed more than three months ago with no action yet that I am aware of, be dismissed on the grounds that due process has been fatally compromised. I will update blog readers as things develop. I am still thinking about how and when to respond to the false allegations in the complaint, which have now been widely disseminated. However, it is absolutely clear that the complaint was a coordinated effort, instigated by a small group of anthropologists who have been trying to stop my #MeToo reporting in that field for the past three years.
Update January 16, 2021: We now have confirmation that one of the four anthropologists referred to above has been directly working with the Kurin team; a second, also closely cooperating with the Kurin team, is now represented formally by her attorney. Meanwhile there has been no word from NASW about the status of the complaint against me. Any chance of due process has by now been hopelessly compromised.