Thursday, August 28, 2008

It had to happen sooner or later

Many of you are familiar with my distaste for Michael Politz, the publisher of a Vegas food-industry magazine who makes outlandish claims on his blog and is known to view himself as a legitimate journalist despite obvious examples of blatant shilling. He also feuds with everyone from Norm Clarke the the Greenspuns. Everyone's out to get him.

Now Prive, the nightclub at Planet Hollywood, has sued Politz for a panoply of defamation, extortion and copyright infringement claims. You can read the 16-page complaint here. A couple of lawyers have blogged their bafflement over what they view as weak copyright infringement charges here and here.

That may be so, but that's not the really interesting stuff here. No, I like the part where Prive pulls the curtains back a bit on how they believe Politz does business.

According to the complaint, Politz "has originated, written, and/or posted positive reviews and laudatory content on regarding individuals and/or entities doing business in the local entertainment industry who have given cash amounts or granted favors to Defendant Politz, and has originated, written, and/or posted false and damaging content on regarding individuals and/or entities doing business in the local entertainment industry who refused to give cash amounts or grant favors to Defendant Politz."

Wow. That's pretty intense. Also, given what's seen on Politz's site, totally believable. The claim says Politz panned Prive in January after being denied entry -- I'm guessing because he wanted to get in for free? -- then asked the owners for money to get back on his "good side." There's no telling until a trial whether Prive has any actual evidence behind those claims -- a smoking e-mail, maybe? -- but they go on to state:

"In March 2008, Defendant Politz contacted another member of Prive management and admitted to originating, writing and posting negative content in exchange for a cash payment from a competitor to Prive."

Wait! It gets even better! Four hosts quit Prive in the spring and went to work at competing clubs. Prive sued them, alleging they had breached non-compete clauses in their contracts and alleging that at least one of those hosts took a valuable, proprietary client list with him/her.

Politz pounced on Prive for this flap. In early August, he published on his site an anonymous letter he claimed was sent by a former employee to the Nevada Gaming Control Board that contained a long list of outrageous and, thus far, unsupported accusations against Prive owner Justin Levine and manager Frank Tucker.

The letter Politz posted alleged drug use and dealing, verbal harassment of staffers, underage drinking and theft of wages and tips. I'm being deliberately vague and not linking to the letter because it's so bizarre that I fear that even I could be in legal trouble for pointing you to it. (In reality, though, probably not since Prive reiterated all the allegations in their own court filing which is a public document.)

It's probably impossible to prove whether Politz wrote the thing himself as the Prive lawsuit suggests, but there are some clues that something's fishy with it. Among them, it's awfully unlikely a former employee would misspell a name as simple as Levine. It's more likely that whomever fabricated the letter to embarrass Prive did so to make it seem in some way authentic. Further, Politz himself misspelled Justin Levine as Justine Levine in an 8/19 post. These are really easy names so either he's doing in intentionally or he's really, really stupid. Or both! (Misspellings are actually really common in Politz's writings; he referred to Norm in that post I linked to above as having "inadequit" social skills.)

Either way, Politz is responsible for the letter's contents because he chose to publish it. It wasn't even posted as a comment on his blog; it was posted by the owner of the website himself. This is the fundamental principle that he seems to simply deny by claiming he didn't write it.

Politz wrote on 8/18, six days after he initially published this letter:

"I must make this clear to everyone that we don't endorse the anonymous letter or anything that is stated within the letter. The publishing of this letter does not reflect the opinions of anyone working here. We simply put the letter up for our readers to read and judge for themselves."

Uh, no, you yutz. That's not how libel law works, as any journalism-school freshman is taught. Can you imagine what the publishing world would be like if anyone could publish any allegedly anonymous statements and not be responsible for it? The Internet already allows for that to some extent because it's so easy to both publish something and be anonymous about it. But this is clearly Politz's site and he is clearly liable for the content he posts on it. And proving actual malice, the legal standard by which Politz wanted to harm Prive and its reputation and that this wasn't just some inadvertent error, seems exceedingly easy here.

Memo to Prive: Go get 'em, boys. I've never been in your club and I probably wouldn't much enjoy it. Not my thing. But anything you can do to foster more journalistic responsibility amongst schmucks like this who poison the well for the rest of us, I'm all for.


Brett said...

what a scumbag. why does anyone look at that loser's website?

Anonymous said...

never even heard of his website until now. btw the lawsuit is a joke. looks like a typical corporate bully suit. the part about employees stealing customer lists is amusing. this happens all the time, all day long in the business world. every host that goes from one casino company to another takes their client list with them.

Peter Gazinia said...

Maybe the Prive' guys will let you give them oral now...

Anonymous said...

(update) Prive won the lawsuit, Michael is publishing his blog on some other domain because he lost his site in the suit.