Two years ago we wrote an article covering Arlen Schumer’s outburst at the 2019 San Diego Comic Fest. Today, someone heavily suggesting they were Mr. Schumer’s attorney sent several emails attempting to pressure The Geekiary into scrubbing evidence of his outburst off the internet- but is this person actually an attorney, or are they even a friend of Mr Schumer? And why are they contacting us two years down the road?
Right off the bat you might be wondering, “Why is The Geekiary covering Arlen Schumer? Isn’t he that Senate guy?”
Sorry, you’re thinking of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Don’t stress, we’ve also been consumed by politics and it’s been a while since any of us were at a convention. I had genuinely forgotten who Arlen Schumer was.
To get you up to speed, here’s the intro from our 2019 Arlen Schumer article (the one this person claims was defamatory):
Arlen Schumer is a comic art historian and a “comic book-style illustrator for the advertising and editorial markets”. He’s written a couple award-winning coffee table books about comic art history. Convention organizers like his VisuaLectures, which are slideshows accompanied by pretty thorough and specific art critiques. They’re a fun way to fill a room with substantive programming and highlight comic icons.
(Side note, that is a downright friendly lead-in. I am so bad at defaming people.)
Our current situation surrounds this video, posted by us in conjunction with the original article.
Right after publication Mr. Schumer had Things To Say, both in our comments and over on YouTube. He deleted most of his YouTube comments (one of which was a threat to sue the website) but there are still some on our article.
We like to keep a friendly atmosphere of fandom banter. A lot of Arlen Schumer’s comments violated our comment guidelines and were removed by editors in accordance with our comment policy, which states:
Commenters who violate these policies will either have their posts edited by a moderator with a note indicating what content has been removed and why. Comments may be deleted if the remaining content of the post doesn’t justify it remaining in the comments section.
You can read his posts on our article for yourself. Here’s my favorite of what is left after we pulled policy-violating sections out:
Did we take it a bit easy on him by removing the really nasty parts of what he said? Maybe so. Maybe it would have been in the public interest to let those remain. However, our comment policy was designed to create a space where fans can safely express their feelings without encountering triggering language. That takes priority over letting people who are subject to the whims of an “emotional well” leave embarrassing digital breadcrumbs.
Anyway, this article isn’t about Arlen Schumer (except to add context for the situation). We’re pretty sure he has no idea of anything that followed, which got pretty wild.
The original drama died down after a few weeks. The following December, though, we received a message from someone claiming to be Mr. Schumer’s PR representative. It was polite enough so I’m censoring the agency name:
That’s a bit hard to read, so here’s the text:
Hope you are doing well. I represent Arlen Schumer on some new initiatives. Upon review of this YouTube channel, I saw the lead video that portray’s [sic] Arlen in a very negative light. The link is below and I’m asking if you could remove it or, move its placement further down the page. Arlen is a very sincere professional, like anybody else, there are situations where people get caught up in the moment.
We declined, because removing negative press which was honestly posted is unfair to both our fans and other people we cover. We cover what we see. If we’re wrong we apologize, but if we’re right that lives on the internet forever.
That seemed to be the end of the situation- until now.
Nearly two years after the article went live, someone contacted the website claiming to be a “former defamation trial attorney”. Although they didn’t specifically state they were Arlen Schumer’s attorney, they did imply they had reviewed the situation at his request (a point which they explicitly denied several emails down the chain when asked for confirmation).
This person informed us that our article about Mr. Schumer was “both defamatory as well as libel per se and trade libel”. They suggested that we should remove the article and video as well as apologizing to Mr. Schumer with the implication that not doing so could result in legal action. (Again, this was a heavy implication and not expressly said. Anyone sensing a theme here?)
I don’t expect anyone here to be a lawyer (I’m certainly not), so I’ll explain what’s wrong with that statement. “Defamation” is a general term that includes libel and slander, so to describe something as “defamatory as well as libel” is already redundant. Moving on from that, neither form of libel applies. In California:
- Libel per se is a false, malicious statement made about someone publicly that could potentially damage their reputation. That “per se” is opposed to “per quod” and essentially means that the libel is obvious and doesn’t need to be explained. The first requirement of this, however, is that the statement be false. Press can and should report on negative behavior by public figures, of which Arlen Schumer is arguably one. The Geekiary didn’t use CGI to make a fake video- we posted video taken legitimately at an event and commented on it. Therefore, our statements are easily provable as “not libelous”.
- Trade libel allows businesses to sue for false and negative statements maliciously posted about them. Again, the easiest defense against this is to prove the statement is correct. As you can see above, we have video of our reporting against Mr. Schumer. It happened.
We had no real need to respond to this person, given that their statements were obviously false. We did, though, very politely. They responded so quickly they must have been waiting, firing off two quick emails with additional accusations. Here are some highlights:
- “On what does your counsel derive a press privilege defense? Are you purporting that you had event issued press passes?” Yes? That’s how conventions work. Our reporter had a press pass from San Diego Comic Fest. They were wearing it at the time of filming.
- “Even a cursory examination and investigation of the circumstances of your taping of the seminar without Mr. Schumer’s express consent refuted that position.” As press, we had permission to film in and around SDCF. After the event we spoke with representatives at SDCF who did not request the video be taken down.
- “Your purported ‘press footage’, lacks any meaningful context and seems designed only to embarrass Mr. Schumer by selectively editing his seminar to portray a normal frustrated reaction by a sanctioned presenter as some kind of unhinged disproportionate response to the conference aide who interrupted him.” All we removed from the video was the beginning which contains a slideshow presentation. In our opinion, posting that whole slideshow would be rude since comic slideshows are partially how Arlen Schumer makes a living. We did offer to post the whole video if they could get Mr. Schumer to sign a release, which was not accepted (for reasons you will see later- namely, that they weren’t actually Mr. Schumer’s legal representative).
The tone of these emails became more threatening- not outright saying we’d be sued but dropping hints about talking to “our liability insurance” and so on. We did what any sensible news outlet would do: talked to a lawyer and looked up this “former defamation trial attorney”.
That’s where things got very weird.
We can’t find any evidence that this “attorney” is a real attorney, or even a friend of Arlen Schumer’s (which they did expressly say they were in one email, though it’s very important to note that we haven’t had contact from Mr. Schumer and this individual has no visible connection to him).
Once we pushed for information about who this person was and whether they could get us a statement from their client, their tone changed. They began stating that they weren’t representing Arlen Schumer as they had previously implied, and attempted to strongarm us into not publishing their emails or name, or in fact anything about this conversation. They made clear threats of legal action based on “25 years as a trial attorney” who “zealously guards” their privacy.
Here’s a statement from Admin Angel about why we are still covering this situation:
Schumer’s initial comments threatening to sue The Geekiary is what’s called a SLAPP. It’s meant to silence publications and individuals. This practice has statutory protections for defendants in 31 states, DC, and Guam.
The December contact from the PR firm demonstrated Arlen Schumer’s continued interest in the video. This lent credibility to the initial implication from this person that they represented Mr. Schumer as, due to the previous contact, we assumed this was another attempt to threaten us with a SLAPP suit.
At this point, the person has denied being legal counsel for Mr. Schumer, so we have eliminated that possibility.
The Geekiary attended San Diego Comic Fest as press, had permission to film at the convention, and posted a video of a noteworthy incident in a community that aligns with our website’s purview. The article and the video will remain posted and we will not be intimidated with SLAPP suit threats, nor threats from any concerned party intended to scare a small outlet into compliance.
We stand by our reporting and want to be transparent about what’s transpiring about the two year old video and article.
What do we know about this situation, really?
The person who contacted us said in their introduction that they were a “former defamation trial attorney” but continued to use the honorific “Esq”, which implies they are still a practicing attorney of some kind.
However, the email we received came from a personal email that appears to be a “couple email”- you know, where a spouse team has a joint email they both check? It is made up of what appear to be first names (we will not be sharing that or the “attorney’s” name for the spouse’s privacy).
I can’t link you to their professional website as- well, we just can’t find one? There are 2 lawyers in California (where Mr. Schumer lives) by the same name we were given. One had a legal website but stated firmly that they aren’t Arlen Schumer’s lawyer and have never heard of him. The other was disbarred in 2018 after a lengthy list of disciplinary actions.
Our request for the lawyer’s professional information was unanswered as of publication time. A direct request for a statement from Mr. Schumer also went unanswered, which makes sense as this isn’t his attorney.
That leaves us in a quandry. Normal legal challenges are delivered via professional channels. We’ve had a few- some legitimate, some not. We haven’t had a situation where a person who may or may not have ever been a lawyer delivers a series of heavily implied legal threats on behalf of who he implies is a client, but in reality may not even know.
I don’t believe that Mr. Schumer, a professional comic history presenter, would have a disbarred attorney mislead a small press website in order to deliver legal threats. That stretches the limits of credibility.
The question remains, though: who is this “lawyer” sending us emails full of ominous legal buzzwords? Are they even really Mr. Schumer’s friend, or perhaps some sort of fanboy trying to win points with his idol?
We don’t know. We don’t even want to further speculate why someone would do this. We’re sharing this story to be open about the types of challenges small press faces when standing by honest reporting.
Also, because it’s a really weird situation and we don’t know what’s happening.
Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and games enthusiast. She is co-editor (alongside Alex DeCampi) of and contributor to “True War Stories”, a comic anthology published by Z2 Comics. When she’s not writing or creating games, Khai likes to run more tabletop RPGs than one person should reasonably juggle.
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