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Heartland Institute Threatens To Sue Anyone Who Comments On Leaked Documents 517

Posted by samzenpus
from the stop-talking dept.
Layzej writes "Bloggers around the world have been commenting on recently leaked Heartland Institute documents that reveal their internal strategies to discredit climate science. These posters are now under threat of legal action. According to the Heartland Institute 'the individuals who have commented so far on these documents did not wait for Heartland to confirm or deny the authenticity of the documents. We believe their actions constitute civil and possibly criminal offenses for which we plan to pursue charges and collect payment for damages'"
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Heartland Institute Threatens To Sue Anyone Who Comments On Leaked Documents

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  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @12:39PM (#39092953)

    we plan to pursue charges and collect payment for damages, including damages to our reputation.

    lol

    you guys are fundies. your rep is what it is, memos or no memos.

    enjoy your 'moment of babs', you losers.

  • by Lehk228 (705449) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @12:40PM (#39092973) Journal
    'the individuals who have commented so far on these documents did not wait for Heartland to confirm or deny the authenticity of the documents.

    well I guess that confirms the authenticity now
  • by SadButTrue (848439) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @12:42PM (#39092999) Homepage

    They seem to be a bit confused about the authenticity of the documents:

    "Therefore, the authenticity of those documents has not been confirmed." (in bold none the less)
    then at the bottom:

    "How did this happen? The stolen documents were obtained by an unknown person who fraudulently assumed the identity of a Heartland board member and persuaded a staff member here to “re-send” board materials to a new email address."

    Err so they are your documents but you cannot confirm that they are your documents?

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @12:45PM (#39093031) Homepage
    The most fascinating thing about this is the general hypocrisy involved. Whenever the whole "ClimateGate" matter occurred, Heartland was at the front of trumpeting the documents from that (which incidentally turned out to be utterly benign), with zero concern about the ethics of taking confidential documents from other people using hacking. Yet now, when the same thing happens to them, they use every bit of the legal system to go after not just the people who actually did do it but anyone who is then commenting or reproducing the documents. Really charming behavior.
  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @12:48PM (#39093049) Journal

    I guess they're hoping that their opponents are as gullible as their supporters.

  • Scientology (Score:4, Insightful)

    by David Gerard (12369) <slashdot@@@davidgerard...co...uk> on Sunday February 19, 2012 @12:49PM (#39093055) Homepage

    Because it worked so well for Scientology [suburbia.net].Yeah, I can't see this going wrong in any way at all.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 19, 2012 @12:50PM (#39093067)

    The Heartland Institute didn't find it necessary for following this protocol for commenting on leaked documents when it came to Climategate [heartland.org].

  • Re:Streissand (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bagorange (1531625) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @12:50PM (#39093069)

    Maybe the Streisand Effect will get more eyeballs on their sites?
    They claim that their message is being suppressed by the forces of evil anyway. Their target audience might just see the leaks as the work of the conspiracy of freedom haters and lap up the message.

  • Re:Streissand (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 19, 2012 @12:54PM (#39093105)

    They want the Streisand effect. Their job is to create the impression of widespread doubt, the opposite of consent. What better way to do that than a heated debate? Observe how they will redirect the publicity away from their motives to the "topic at hand: climate change".

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @12:55PM (#39093113) Journal

    I can't sort out what part of the legal system they plan on using. If you can find the leak, then certainly you can persue them criminally and civilly. Perhaps if it's being reproduced word for word on websites, then you can probably go for copyright infringement, though by now the document has spread to the four corners of the planet and it's far past the point when that's really a meaningful option. As to suing people that comment on the document, that's patently absurd. In most Western countries there are protections on that sort of speech. I guess you could try to claim libellous conduct, but by now tens of thousands of people have likely commented on it, and the idea that you can actually bring any fraction of them into court is highly unlikely, and that's not even talking about the odds of conviction (pretty low in the US, that's for sure).

    I've seen some pretty pathetic legal threats, but this more resembles the kind of nonsense I used to see on some Internet forums where some nasty little prick, when cornered, would make some vague legal threat. Might as well threaten that Jesus will come down and stomp on your balls.

  • by MisterMidi (1119653) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @12:58PM (#39093139) Homepage
    They claim at least one document has been faked (the climate strategy memo) and others may have been altered. If this is indeed the case, the documents aren't authentic.
  • Re:Right Wingers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by forkfail (228161) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @01:06PM (#39093191)

    Just remember - power abhors a vacuum. Maybe you're right to want to kick both out (as I'm sometimes inclined), but if the power structure of government is torn down, others will move quickly to fill that void. And the power poised at this time is corporate power, which when allowed to be unchecked is not controlled by the invisible hand, but rather, becomes an heriditary feudalistic system.

    Yeah, they're corrupt as all getup. But when the question is tear it all down or try to fix what we've got, and tearing it all down opens things up to even worse scenarios, one is only left with trying to find a way to fix what is.

    At least, until it gets so bad that everyone takes to the streets and we wind up shooting each other until the rage is burned out and the next generation of politicians of some stripe take the reigns.

  • by BasilBrush (643681) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @01:11PM (#39093229)

    Of course they claim one is faked. It's so damaging to them they don't have any other means of defence other than to claim fake. We can expect them to say it's faked either way.

    Whether it actually is faked or not is another matter. There's no evidence one way or the other. But it being in a bundle with genuine documents does put the balance of probabilities on it also being genuine.

  • by thisnamestoolong (1584383) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @01:12PM (#39093235)
    FUCK YOU HEARTLAND INSTITUTE. FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU. FUCK. YOU.

    Whew... Now that that is off my chest...

    This is completely unacceptable. We really ought to have laws in place to smack down people that try to use the legal system to suppress protected speech -- this type of prosecution, regardless of the ultimate outcome, causes great harm to the people that are caught up in it. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to defend yourself, which is financially ruinous to the average person. This creates a chilling effect on free speech, which we really cannot allow if we want to remain free. I honestly believe that the people from the Heartland Institute belong behind bars for even attempting such a thing. So, in short, fuck off Heartland Institute. Keep your shit-digging hands off of my civil liberties. Even if you weren't a braindead anti-science piece of shit of an organization, I would think that it is time for you to go. The fact that everything your institute stands for is a huge, fat, retarded lie does not help your case.
  • by Jiro (131519) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @01:15PM (#39093255)

    If the documents made the left look bad instead of the right everyone would be falling over themselves to claim that Internet people with no professional training who figured out the documents were fake were doing the people a valuable service and a prime example of how the Internet empowered the common man.

    There certainly have been cases in the past where fake documents were exposed by people on the Internet with no professional training. Remember Dan Rather's Killian documents? (Another case where the documents made the right look bad, but turned out to be fabricated). It wasn't the mass media that exposed those--it was guys on the Internet.

  • by Gideon Wells (1412675) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @01:21PM (#39093295)

    The innocent have nothing to fear, yes, I know that.

    If they fear commenting on these documents to such a degree, I have to ask why, All they have to do is never confirm the documents (or wait a few months, on a Friday, at midnight). So there is an easy route of censorship there.

    Second, the whole climate change is bunk movement's claim is that politics is being played, and you can't trust the results saying it is happening. We have a memo here implying that politics might be being played, and research/motives to be questioned. Revealing this is grounds for being sued.

    Third, lawsuits potentially coming? Even ignoring the chilling effect, do we really need to reach that stage of escalation int his subject where every time someone speaks for one side the other side begins suing?

    They are all attacking the messengers and trying to cease the message. They have yet to put out anything to show these are false. Just silencing the people trying to talk about this.

  • by sed quid in infernos (1167989) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @01:24PM (#39093327)

    "But it being in a bundle with genuine documents does put the balance of probabilities on it also being genuine." No, it doesn't. We know the person who obtained whatever genuine documents are there is dishonest and has an agenda.* How does the "balance of probabilities" say that this person didn't do something else dishonest to further his agenda? We have no knowledge on this point one way or the other.

    *I know some people say the same thing about the institute itself. Which is why I have no idea whether that document is fake or not.

  • Re:Right Wingers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheLink (130905) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @01:24PM (#39093329) Journal

    Shot in a known nonlethal way. Bah. Many sociopaths would do that if it means they get what they want.

    Here's how to really be commander-in-chief, risk your life on the line and lead the soldiers out to battle in spirit:
    http://slashdot.org/journal/208853/how-to-reduce-unwanted-wars [slashdot.org]

    That would make even sociopaths think harder before telling others to put life and limb on the line. When you send soldiers to war you're not sending them to be shot in nonlethal parts of their bodies.

  • Always idiots... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by russotto (537200) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @01:25PM (#39093335) Journal

    OK, suppose everything Heartland says about the documents is true: someone leaked a bunch of real documents, and slipped a bogus "smoking gun" memo in there.

    Any PR firm worth its salt could have a field day with that, portraying the Heartland Institute as the victim. Why would they then ruin it by making ridiculous statements implying it's an individual's legal obligation to fact check a document before commenting on it? Do they just have an institutional need to twirl their evil mustache?

  • by Moryath (553296) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @01:29PM (#39093381)

    we plan to pursue charges and collect payment for damages, including damages to our reputation.

    Translation: we're going to sue everyone we possibly can, because the papers were correct, our position is publicly indefensible, and the only resource we have is lawyers and money to threaten people with like mafia leg-breakers.

    This from the same money-laundering front group (I call them this as they REFUSE to disclose their donor list) who commissioned bogus "studies" to try to claim cigarette smoke isn't dangerous.

  • by FirstOne (193462) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @01:31PM (#39093397) Homepage

    The first thing a defendant's lawyer is going to do is subpoena a true copy of the originals. Then the cat will be out of the BAG for sure.

  • That was my first thought exactly. One rule and set of ethics for them, another set for everyone else and any time the spotlight is on them it's "persecution".

    Shares a lot in common with the way religious fundamentalists operate, too. "You're oppressing my religious freedom by not allowing me to force my beliefs on others! That's unfair!"

  • by stevebyan (806118) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @01:43PM (#39093493)
    Megan McArdle is not a liberal source. http://www.balloon-juice.com/2011/08/04/under-pressure/ [balloon-juice.com]
  • by Moryath (553296) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @01:44PM (#39093505)

    The innocent have nothing to fear, yes, I know that.
    Actually, what the innocent still have to fear is HI acting like every other right wing shill group. They have two things on their side: money and lawyers. They can bankrupt an innocent person through the act of barratry [thefreedictionary.com] and as a corrupt right wing shill group whose previous exploits involve funding faked studies to do things like claim cigarette smoke isn't dangerous, they've already shown that they have no moral compass stopping them from doing so.

    If they fear commenting on these documents to such a degree, I have to ask why,
    See above. If they get exposed so blatantly, they might have to fold. And the people writing for them might have to find real work rather than being right wing shills.

    Second, the whole climate change is bunk movement's claim is that politics is being played, and you can't trust the results saying it is happening. We have a memo here implying that politics might be being played, and research/motives to be questioned. Revealing this is grounds for being sued.

    Third, lawsuits potentially coming? Even ignoring the chilling effect, do we really need to reach that stage of escalation int his subject where every time someone speaks for one side the other side begins suing?

    They are all attacking the messengers and trying to cease the message. They have yet to put out anything to show these are false. Just silencing the people trying to talk about this.
    Right wing shillery RELIES on two things: the echo chamber and the chilling effect. Ever noticed how a Fox News viewer screams about the "liberal media" nonstop? It's because if they ever listened to both sides, they'd realize their side's argument is more full of holes than a loaf of aged swiss cheese.

  • open documents (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Skapare (16644) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @01:47PM (#39093523) Homepage

    Any HONEST and HONORABLE institution should have nothing to hide. With all their working documents publicly available, this kind of thing would not happen. I have to conclude that Heartland does not meet this ideal.

  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @01:59PM (#39093627) Homepage

    The first thing a defendant's lawyer is going to do is subpoena a true copy of the originals. Then the cat will be out of the BAG for sure.

    Oopsy, we lost it. Here's a copy.....

  • by multimediavt (965608) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @02:02PM (#39093655)

    The first thing a defendant's lawyer is going to do is subpoena a true copy of the originals. Then the cat will be out of the BAG for sure.

    Why were you the first one to post on this, so low in the chain?!! That was the FIRST thought in my head, "A subpoena ought to clear that up in about a week!" I wish we could mod up thread as well as points!

  • by Moryath (553296) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @02:05PM (#39093679)

    Right wing followup:
    When you have neither the law, nor the facts, nor the table in your favor, get a lawyer to hold a gun to someone's back and tell your opponent to shut up or you'll bankrupt them in legal fees defending yourself anyways.

    This is the problem of the current state of US law. It doesn't MATTER if you have the law in your favor, or the facts in your favor, provided the other side has enough money to make you waste all of yours defending yourself in court against spurious motions and threats.

  • by demonlapin (527802) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @02:19PM (#39093773) Homepage Journal
    Because only one document is scanned. And the one document that's scanned is scanned almost a month after everything else. And the one document that's scanned a month after everything else is the only one that uses inflammatory language like preventing people from "teaching science". It looks fake to me. There's plenty of stuff in the documents that are basically acknowledged as real to let people know how they work, and who they support, and where their money comes from... but the hot, sexy stuff just isn't there. Does your organization work like this? Unsigned, undated memos to people who aren't listed are scanned in from printouts to be put in the corporate file even though everything else you generate goes direct to PDF?
  • Re:Right Wingers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by artor3 (1344997) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @02:34PM (#39093881)

    This guy watches too many movies. Unless they're just shooting off a pinky finger, any area you get shot by a "high-powered assault rifle" is a lethal area, barring immediate medical attention. Even a shot to the calf would have him bleed out long before he managed to crawl fifty yards.

    It's pretty telling that he has given no thought whatsoever to the conscience of the shooter. He's going to order this young man to shoot, and likely kill, someone on live television, just to show how tough he is. He's willing to deal with the physical pain of being shot (likely because he doesn't understand the consequences), but the idea that forcing a person to murder another human being could cause emotional scarring is completely alien to him.

    Thankfully, there is absolutely zero chance of this guy being elected to any office.

  • by MobyDobie (2426436) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @02:37PM (#39093901)
    Sorry, that is really shitty, argument. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion probably included some accurate quotes from The Talmud. (mixed in with the faked stuff) The presence of any such quotes, wouldn't prove them genuine,
  • by Garridan (597129) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @02:46PM (#39093945)
    If these documents are fake, but bring to light damning facts, their falsity is irrelevant. The damning facts are all that matter at the end of the day. If you have a good argument, and bolster it with lies... you can throw the lies away and still have a good argument. It might make for some confusion and futile debate in the meantime, but ultimately, bad means can get one to good ends. I don't condone this, but it can be effective.
  • The big picture (Score:5, Insightful)

    by metrometro (1092237) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @02:49PM (#39093971)

    Think about this: how committed to individual liberty is a group that threatens civil and criminal penalties for discussing their donor list?

    The Heartland Institute calls themselves a "libertarian think tank" which is rarely disputed. However, they are actually a pro-corporate think tank. This involves a lot of libertarian language and theory, but all of it is aimed at crippling government regulations over their donors. This works very well. It does not, however, advance the libertarian agenda or discussion in useful ways. They are shaping the discussion of liberty along frames they find useful, but have the effect of isolating and stupifying the libertarian movement. The result is bipartisan consensus on the Patriot Act. SOPA. TARP.

    Pro-corporate think tanks and their government allies will never be able to have a conversation about state capture, the role of corporate institutions in individual liberty, or free individuals as a curb on corporate excess because a corporate-run tyranny is their preferred outcome. Libertarian-leaning people need to point this out, loudly and often, or they will continue to us for ends we do not support.

  • by SlippyToad (240532) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @02:58PM (#39094047)

    No, the real evidence that this is all genuine stuff is how freaked-out and panicked this philistine think-tank is over the public revelation of their dishonest agenda.

    Fuck them.

  • by rrohbeck (944847) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @03:02PM (#39094071)

    This.
    They're acting exactly as if caught red-handed. They've been a professional PR organization in controversial fields and a hostile environment for decades and they can't spin this? Hmm.

  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @03:05PM (#39094081) Homepage

    There is actually a pretty significant amount of evidence it's faked. ...

    No, what you listed is merely evidence that the pdfs were not all produced at the same time.

    This is interesting, but has no relevance to whether it's faked or not. There is no reason that real documents might not have been pdf'd at different times.

    ...The problem for Heartland is that they're acting like dicks toward a lot of people, when they should be upending heaven and hell to find the [putative] memo forger and crucifying him for libel.

    Which brings up an interesting question. When somebody broke into the CRU and published (what turned out to be a highly edited selection of) stolen e-mail, the response of "let's upend heaven and hell to find the thieves" did not seem to be high on anybody's priority list. So, apparently, it's only an important crime if you steal documents from people denying the science?

  • by M. Baranczak (726671) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @03:18PM (#39094149)

    You've got it exactly backwards. Remember the Dan Rather memo? When that came out, everybody was talking about the forgery, and nobody was talking about the rich frat boy who used his family connections to weasel out of military service.

    I hope the same thing doesn't happen here. The Heartlanders are doing real and lasting damage, the last thing we need is to give them more ammo.

  • by nadaou (535365) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @03:21PM (#39094175) Homepage

    > We know the person who obtained whatever genuine documents
    > are there is dishonest and has an agenda.* ..
    > *I know some people say the same thing about the institute itself.

    "some people say"?? it's their entire reason for existence and they've never tried particularly hard to hide it!

    some people also say the pope is catholic.. there is a time for
    choosing your words carefully, and there are other times to call
    a spade a spade.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 19, 2012 @03:32PM (#39094249)

    We know the person who obtained whatever genuine documents are there is dishonest and has an agenda.

    This statement, on it's own, impinges on the authenticity of every whistleblower, ever.

    Of course, for the aggrieved party, every person who betrays confidences is dishonest and has an agenda. It remains then, for the 3rd party observer, to determine if that evaluation holds up against the scrutiny of the agenda of the aggrieved.

    Frankly, "If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands."

  • by MobyDobie (2426436) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @03:32PM (#39094255)
    There mere fact that a document annoys somebody, doesn't prove it genuine either. To continue the example - Jews are pretty annoyed about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion too. But that still doesn't make the protocols into a genuine document either.
  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @03:55PM (#39094405)
    So you're saying that if Heartland was willing to lie about science then they'd be willing to lie about lying about science? <Artie Johnson>Very interesting ... </Artie Johnson>
  • by mbkennel (97636) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @03:59PM (#39094425)

    "Turning everything into a massive conspiracy theory is not going to help you do this."

    One side promotes the idea that there has been a massive global conspiracy by scientists, across a number of disciplines and organizations, lasting over decades, to lie about a central scientific result in their field. There is no sensible organizational backing or motivation to this.

    Scientists try to "engage people" by doing as good science as they can and working hard over decades to produce consensus estimates of the best known status from high-quality experimental and theoretical research, and work to explain it in (highly educated) laymens' terms as well as they can.

    The other side yells that they're lying scumbags out to attack freedom.

    The other side promotes the idea that there is a small political conspiracy to gain by people who have previously been known to engage in political conspiracies of a a similar nature. There is a well known organizational consistency and economic motivation to this.

  • by mathmathrevolution (813581) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @04:10PM (#39094499)

    How would the prospective forger have known about Anthony Watt's involvement in the Expanded Climate Communications? This is accurate information and the only possible source for it was the leaked strategy memo. Only somebody working with the Heartland institute could have had the necessary information to "fake" that memo. It could not have been an invention of unscrupulous activists as Heartland claims.

  • by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @04:39PM (#39094705)
    Also note that they haven't said the document is not authentic. They just said that until they are sure what their liability is for either statement, they refuse to comment. They've never said they are false. They just threatened anyone who talks about them before they verify them, then refused to verify them.
  • by riverat1 (1048260) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @04:51PM (#39094771)

    And your post is pretty much the definition of a conspiracy theory. [wikipedia.org]

  • by riverat1 (1048260) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @05:12PM (#39094871)

    If I had mod points to give you'd get a +1 Insightful. The idea that so many scientists across so many disciplines from around the world could maintain such a conspiracy for so long is absurd. Do people really believe the so many scientists are willing to risk their scientific reputations for political aims? Anyone who proves them wrong would destroy them and would be up for a Nobel Prize.

  • Re:The big picture (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @05:24PM (#39094923)

    Think about this: how committed to individual liberty is a group that threatens civil and criminal penalties for discussing their donor list?

    The Heartland Institute calls themselves a "libertarian think tank" which is rarely disputed. However, they are actually a pro-corporate think tank. This involves a lot of libertarian language and theory, but all of it is aimed at crippling government regulations over their donors. This works very well. It does not, however, advance the libertarian agenda or discussion in useful ways.

    This is what "libertarian" has become in the USA. Republicans without the pretence of being on God's advisory panel.

  • by demonlapin (527802) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @05:44PM (#39095061) Homepage Journal
    The "strategy memo" is, from what I have read, dated on the afternoon before this was all released. I suppose your scenario might apply if it was dated even a few days earlier, but 3:41 pm Pacific is 5:41 pm Central - i.e., Heartland's offices would almost certainly have been closed. And that strategy memo, which is the one whose authenticity is most suspect, is also the one that makes the broadest, most vilifying claims (about preventing teachers from teaching science, or the megabucks from the Evil Kochs to trash talk global warming, or the journalists who are supposedly in their pockets). In at least one case - the Koch funding - it's clearly contradicted by the other documents, so if you want to be a responsible journalist you'd have to question your source's reliability when the document with the juiciest information isn't supported by anything else.
  • by wall0159 (881759) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @10:36PM (#39096685)

    I find it fascinating that this hacking has prompted a discussion about truth, objectivity and facts.

    Perhaps we (the public) should apply these new-found reasoning skills to the science of climate change, and ignore some of the ad hominems (and other absurdities) that have been directed against climate scientists by organisations such as Heartland.

  • by baegucb (18706) on Sunday February 19, 2012 @11:38PM (#39096911)

    Sort of how this billionaire supporter of Romney does it when papers or websites investigate him: http://www.salon.com/2012/02/19/billionaire_romney_donor_uses_threats_to_silence_critics/singleton/ [salon.com]

Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.

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