A recent TechCrunch post recapitulates its dispute with CBS and Last.fm, reiterates its confidence in its accusations, and closes with
And to the CBS employee who was fired and threatened based on this story – we believe certain U.S. Whistle Blower laws may protect you from retaliation from CBS in this matter. We’d like to provide you with legal counsel at our cost.
That’s a remarkable offer to make, one that is very rare for traditional media to match. As such, it’s a strong (albeit very partial) answer to the ongoing handwringing about the future of investigative journalism.
By the way, I once got an analogous offer — but it was from a company, not a media outlet. In 1994, I broke the news that Sybase’s development efforts were a train wreck. Gartner Group accelerated its research on the same issue, and went out with the same story*. Sybase faxed libel threats to Gartner and me. I quickly reached out to Sybase competitors for help. Oracle’s and CA’s general counsels walked me through the legal issues (without overstepping the bounds that would have led them to be “acting as my lawyer”). Larry Ellison promised by email to pay my legal expenses, if any. Charles Wang of CA was too cheap to match the offer — but he sat in personally on my call with his lawyer.
*Tony Percy admitted the causality to me a few years later, after he’d left Gartner.
So fortified — and with PR maven Simone Otus doing her best to talk sense into her Sybase clients — I faxed back a pair of two-page letters. One explained the basis for my written opinions, demonstrating there was NFW I was guilty of libel. The other outlined a proposal for reducing hostilities. The whole thing simmmered down. Sybase’s sales and earninsg fell apart a couple quarters later, exactly when I predicted. Management was replaced by people much more friendly to me (Mitchell Kertzman, Dennis McEvoy, et al.). Some outstanding folks got involved in analyst relations (at various times Rob Cooley, Dave Taber, and Merv Adrian, which is pretty much a Hall of Fame class right there). And all was cool. But I digress …
Anyhow, my main point is that the new information ecosystem is constantly evolving new ways to fill the roles that traditional media are, at least in part, vacating. TechCrunch’s bold act of investigatory journalistic commitment is just one example.
And while it’s now almost 15 years old, my Sybase story shows another way this can work. I’m a self-employed analyst and writer now, just as I was then. But even so, I can afford to research and write contentious things, without concern for legal intimidation.