News & Politics

AlterNet Takes on Shock Jock Michael Savage and Gets Threatened With a Lawsuit

When we helped publicize the link between bilious talk show host Michael Savage and Rockstar energy drink, we got a letter from their lawyers.

Michael Savage, right-wing crusader against gays, immigrants, Muslims, Barack Obama, Britain, women, (and possibly puppies), may have found a new object for his wrath: groups that have the temerity to publicize the vicious talk-show host’s connection to Rockstar energy drink -- and to call for a boycott by consumers opposed to Savage's hatemongering.

As part of AlterNet's 10 Hottest Campaigns section, we published a piece alerting readers to a boycott against the Rockstar products. The campaign, launched by Charles C.C. Tsai on Facebook, brought attention to the connection between Savage and the energy drink company. Tsai's page pointed out that Savage's son, Russell Weiner, is the founder and CEO of Rockstar. Savage's wife serves as director of energy drink company, and Savage Productions shares an address with Rockstar(!). 

On May 27, the same day the piece was published, Rockstar’s lawyers sent AlterNet a letter accusing us of defamation. The letter read, in part:

Mr. Savage is not affiliated with Rockstar in any manner. Alternet.org’s use of the article to tie Rockstar to Mr. Savage’s statements is wholly improper. Not only does it place Rockstar in a false light, but it constitutes defamation, both of which are objectional.

The offices of Glaser, Weil, Fink, Jacobs, Howard & Shapiro, also demanded an "immediate public retraction of these statements and an apology in substantially as conspicuous a matter on AlterNet.org as the defamatory statements were published."

So, we "apologized," sort of. Here’s what we said:

Lawyers from Rockstar have written AlterNet threatening to sue us because they claim that Michael Savage (aka Weiner) is not a "co-founder" of the Rockstar drink company, as was described in our item, but rather his son, Russell Weiner, is the CEO and principle shareholder, and that Savage has never been an officer, director, employee or shareholder, of the company. AlterNet does not have any specific knowledge of family discussions, meetings, etc., that led to the formation of the company to be able to prove that he was a "co-founder."

Nevertheless, a dictionary definition of "co-founder" offers: "to establish or found in concert with another or others." Thus, it would require, perhaps, for Savage and his son to deny they ever spoke about the founding of the company in order for Savage to be unqualified as a founder. The definition of co-founder doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with ownership, shareholding, etc.

That being said, in the absence of proof of the inner workings of the Weiner family, we retract the comment that Michael Savage was a "co-founder" of the beverage company and offer apologies, if somehow that characterization casts aspersions on any members of the Weiner family, or Savage himself.

Others have also been compelled to write retractions and say “I'm sorry." Gaywired, which published a story about TheTruthAboutRockstar.com, issued this statement.

Meanwhile, Tsai and his Facebook group fared far worse after taking on Rockstar and Savage:

"I made a group to let others know and be able to make a similar choice if they wanted; the group was formed, and it quickly grew to over 12,000 members." Tsai, says in a statement. “In it, we put together a list of quotations from Michael Savage Weiner, as well as his son, that we strongly did not agree with."

Tsai continues:

We also put commonly known information, such as the fact that they co-founded the extremely conservative Paul Revere society, which openly calls for actions such as “eliminate bilingual education in all states" and "traditional marriage." More easily proven information was included as well.

Then, on May 27, I woke up unable to log into my personal Facebook account. It was disabled. I lost all my photos, friends and priceless memories. I sent multiple e-mails to Facebook without any response. And then upon inquiring, I found out that the "Don't Drink Hate. BOYCOTT ROCKSTAR" Facebook group was coincidentally also suddenly taken down without my or any of the administrators' knowledge.

Tsai was then treated to a letter from Rockstar's lawyers similar to the one sent to AlterNet, telling him to issue an apology. Here are parts of Tsai's statement:

I've been forced to make "an immediate public retraction..." and "apologize for the business libel you committed against Rockstar."

I've been "advised that Rockstar will pursue all necessary legal action to redress the violations of its rights, including, without limitation, an action for general, special and exemplary damages and equitable relief."

----------------------------------------------

[ ... ]

Now, I personally also apologize for the following:

I apologize for having an opinion.

I apologize that I created a group as a means to explore my FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

I apologize that the over 12,000 individuals in that group were SILENCED WITHOUT EXPLANATION.

I apologize for STANDING UP for my communities and the communities that I consider myself an ally to.

[...]

I apologize that you feel the need to THREATEN and SILENCE individuals & organizations that you know are POWERLESS in comparison to your various forms of capital.

I apologize that you seem to be confused by the semantics of the word "co-founder" in the sense that Michael Savage Weiner and his wife, Janet Weiner, IRREFUTABLY CO-CREATED / CO-INVENTED / CO-FOUNDED the Rockstar drink alongside current CEO RUSSELL WEINER.

From Rockstar's OWN archived WEB SITE:

[...]

I apologize that legal threats WILL NOT FORCE me into SUBMISSION.

I apologize that I will not be silenced.

I apologize that the incredibly smart, strong-willed and amazing individuals and communities that dislike your CEO Russell Weiner, his dad, Michael Savage Weiner, and his mom, CFO Janet Weiner, will NOT go quietly into the night and will too NOT BE SILENCED.

I apologize that I will, WITHOUT ANY DOUBT, continue to BOYCOTT Rockstar, as it is MY OWN PERSONAL CHOICE TO DO SO.

[...]

Yours truly,

Charles C.C. Tsai

On top of all that, the group's Facebook page was hijacked by Savage supporters. Yesterday, we received a Facebook message letting us know that, "Jan Mikael Evertsson changed the name of the group 'ROCKSTAR ENERGY DRINK FANCLUB!' to 'Michael Savage -- the FUTURE of America!' "

Since then, a different Facebook user has relaunched the "Don't Drink Hate. BOYCOTT ROCKSTAR" page on Facebook. The page reads:

REPOST BY ANOTHER USER BECAUSE THE ORIGINAL WAS HIJACKED: I AM NOT THE ORIGINAL ADMIN/CREATOR OF THIS GROUP, BUT I FEEL IT DESERVES TO BE PUT BACK.

NOTE: INVITE ALL THE ORIGINAL MEMBERS YOU CAN! WE NEED TO GET THIS BACK TO THE NUMBERS THE ORIGINAL HAD. IF THIS ONE GETS HACKED/REMOVED, THEN SOMEONE PLEASE CREATE ANOTHER, AND SO ON. YOU CAN'T STOP THE SIGNAL. AND I WILL OFFER NO RETRACTIONS AND NO APOLOGIES. FREE SPEECH IS UNIVERSAL. LIVE WITH IT, WEINERS...

Suing Runs in the Family

An eagerness to sue seems to run in the family. When Savage joined Fred Phelps on Britain’s "least wanted," a list of hatemongers banned from the country, he filed a lawsuit in Britain accusing the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, of "serious and damaging defamatory allegations,"

(Savage’s stand for the right to free speech, however, rings somewhat hollow, considering that the talk-show host has advocated jailing war protesters.)

Then there was Savage’s ill-fated (or not, considering the level of publicity it garnered) campaign against the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). In 2007, Savage accused CAIR of violating copyright laws by posting a 4-minute audio clip from Savage’s show. Savage also absurdlyalleged that CAIR violated racketeering laws,“claiming that CAIR was a part of a criminal conspiracy silence critics of Islam," according to city media law. Not suprisingly, a federal district court in California dismissed the ridiculous lawsuit.

Apparently, these days, it is not enough for crazy right-wingers to intimidate through the airwaves. They also do so by threatening absurd lawsuits.

As for Rockstar: At this point, the company has become affiliated with Savage just by virtue of having engaged in similar intimidation tactics. Consumers deserve to know about the political affiliations of the products they buy. Or in this case, the horrifying hate speech associated with something as seemingly benign as an energy drink.

But in its campaign to muzzle critics, Rockstar has overplayed its hand; now, tens of thousands of new people will learn about its link to vicious hate-mongerer Michael Savage.

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet. Tana Ganeva is an associate editor at AlterNet.
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