Some Asshole Hotelier Sends Big Scary Lawyer After Your Wonkette!
Last week, your beloved Wonkette received a very serious letter accusing us of ALL THE LIBELSLANDER.
Remember the CARES Act PPP loans for "small businesses" that ended up going to major corporations and Trump sycophants who gave lots of
speech money to various Republican assholes?
Well, back in April of 2020, Doktor Zoom wrote this lovely piece about how hotel mogul and Trump donor Monty Bennett was the largest recipient of funds from CARES Act's Paycheck Protection Plan, getting $96 million for his business empire from the Small Business Administration. Oh, and he did this while laying off 95 percent of his staff. NBD!
I think I love you
Is it okay if I call you Monty and Steve? I'm gonna call you Monty and Steve. Before we move on, I would just like to take a moment to say thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for this beautiful, beautiful gift. I also have a question.
You presumably came to our website at least once, to read all of the mean, true things you complain about in your letter. So you should have at least some concept of Wonkette's tone.
Even without doing a cursory google to see how we might respond to letters such as this, did the words "Streisand Effect" really never once come to mind?
But, again, thank you. Truly. Last week was a very hard week and I was in great need of a little comic relief. And a defamation accusation containing such gems as the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of "sleazy" was exactly what I needed.
You may not know this about me, Monty and Steve. But responding to these kinds of threats and lawsuits is actually one of my favorite things.
So what are you so afraid of?
From your letter, it appears Monty is upset that we were mean to him. While that's sad for Monty, I recommend he start his quest for redemption by acting like a decent human being, not threatening mommyblogs with bullshit lawsuits.
But let's not speak only in generalizations. Let's get into the specifics of your letter. Because I always love me a good dictionary definition!
The article states that Mr. Bennett "exploit[ed] the 'small' business loan program" and that his actions were "sleazy as fuck." According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "sleazy" is defined to mean "sordid, corrupt, or immoral."
I prefer Merriam-Webster, personally, but you do you. I'm a little sad you didn't also give us a definition of "as fuck" to accompany it, though.
As I once helpfully pointed out to one Mr. Bob Murray, you can't sue someone for telling you to eat shit, and you can't sue someone for calling you "sleazy." That's called an opinion, and it is protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. As I also helpfully explained to Mr. Murray (along with some illustrative photographs), truth is an absolute defense to a claim of defamation. Unfortunately, I do not have any artwork to use here, but I do really enjoy the part of your letter where you tell us that our reporting was correct, but defamatory nonetheless.
The PPP loans obtained by hotel properties within Ashford's portfolio were obtained lawfully and in a manner contemplated by provisions of the CARES Act. The article acknowledges the legality of the loan applications but falsely implies that there was some corruption in the loan application process.
Defamatory implications! And we apparently did a lot of them!
The article falsely implies that there was some deception in the loan application process.
Just to clarify: We implied no such corruption in the loan application process, and we implied no deception in the loan application process. Former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, though, got very GRR MAD that large huge HUGE corporations such as yours were taking advantage of it — or "exploiting" it, as is the definition of "exploiting" per the Commie Girl Industries Inc. dictionary and probably some others. And indeed, you were eventually shamed into returning the money, because it was not the intent of the program, even if it was allowed! Is that our fault? Maybe!
I find it truly fascinating that the letter
you sent us refers to Monty's business empire as "the Ashford portfolio," but you would like to make sure we affirmatively note that companies named things like "Ashford, Inc." and "Ashford Hospitality Trust, Inc." are, technically, separately and legally distinct entities. (Separate and legally distinct entities that are all run by Monty, here, but we are sure that, too, is just a coincidence.) So, sure, WE RETRACT AND ARE HEARTILY SORRY. We good?
Oh! And it appears we were supposed to predict that, at some point after our post was published, Monty would be publicly shamed into returning the PPP loan money and rehiring some people?
Further, Ashford subsequently returned all of the PPP loan funds and rehired many furloughed employees.
You are also perturbed that we wrote about how Monty "had to console himself with some great big bonuses, plus huge dividends from his preferred stock" while laying off almost all of his staff. But we clearly never should have said such a thing, since, as you point out in your letter, "Mr. Bennett's dividends from Ashford, Inc. were decreased as a result of the pandemic." (Emphasis yours.) We really should have noted that Monty became slightly less filthy rich as a result of the pandemic and paid himself a measly $950,000 salary and $2.3 million bonus last year. He paid himself LESS "bonus" — generally considered to be appropriate compensation when a corporation is doing well, not "suffer[ing] enormous financial losses" as you, yourself, describe it — while laying people off and taking PPP loans. Congratulations, Monty. You're a prince.
Like all truly great defamation threats, your letter also includes one of my favorite tropes: not just a retraction demand, but a demand to say ... some random other shit.
My clients further demand that Wonkette affirmatively state the truth about Mr. Bennett and Ashford, which is that they acted lawfully and ethically in obtaining PPP loans after having suffered enormous financial losses during the pandemic, that none of the PPP loan funds were retained by Ashford portfolio properties, and that Mr. Bennett's compensation decreased as a result of the pandemic.
Since Monty is known to pay conservative outlets to be nice to him, I guess it tracks that he thinks he can just bully or pay everyone off. But "ethically"?! SERIOUSLY?! ("After The Times presented evidence that [Bennett] directly ordered articles [contrary to Bennett's spokeswoman's flat denial], lawyers representing [the rightwing "news" publisher Brian] Timpone sent The Times a cease and desist letter, demanding that it not publish the information." It's what's called "the kicker": a vividly outrageous scene to end your story on a WTF note. And Timpone's lawyers apparently didn't threaten to SLAPP the New York By God Times about anything in the Times's extremely damning story — other than their client's relationship with Monty Bennett.)
Oh, Monty and Steve. You know what? I'm going to put this in a way you might understand. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "ethical" as "conforming to accepted standards of conduct." So we respectfully decline.
Thanks but no thanks
Thank you again for your correspondence dated August 25, 2021.
Despite our disagreements, I'd like to acknowledge that I very much appreciate a comment at the end of the letter, where you say you "trust" that we "understand the seriousness of this matter."
We do understand the seriousness of this matter. We absolutely do. We know all too well about the scourge of frivolous litigation clogging our courts that seeks to do nothing more than stifle free speech. People who use the American legal system to silence others just because they don't like what they say are abhorrent and should be ashamed of themselves. This is an epidemic among the mega-rich and rightwing politicians, and it must be stopped.
As for your demand that we "retract and/or correct" some of the very BESMIRCH STATEMENTS we published about Monty, I believe we gave it the appropriate level of seriousness.
Oh, and is this the right place for a reminder that your proposed lawsuit would involve digging into Monty's reputation? Since he's claiming we damaged it with our besmirches? That does sound fun for me, but maybe not so much for you. (And how is that SEC investigation going, by the way?)
Anyway, guys, I appreciate you. I do. But I think you could both really benefit from a primer on defamation law and the First Amendment. May I suggest taking a look at
this legal brief written by a very smart lady with the initials JLC?
Again, thank you for your letter. I mean that.
For more snark and First Amendment lessons, follow
Jamie on Twitter!