I sent a letter to the editor of the Opelika-Auburn News the other day, after reading this little piece about recent efforts by Mike Hubbard to intimidate his critics with legal threats. As far as I know the letter hasn’t appeared in the paper, and my guess is that it’s not likely to, since the opinion page is currently flooded with letters for and against an upcoming city property tax referendum. So, I reprint it here. Of course, if the accusations being made against Hubbard are false, then I think it’s a bad thing for people to tell lies or spread misinformation. But his efforts to enforce his preferred version of events, by means of legal force, is a loathsome attempt at censorship. It is no less preposterous, and even more contemptible, than if he went around challenging his critics to duels.
To the Editor:
I was disappointed to read that Rep. Mike Hubbard has decided to respond to his critics with intimidation and legal threats (“Hubbard enlists attorney to investigate libelous claims,” Sep. 11). Apparently, he is angry about bloggers who made “negative comments” about him on the Internet, so now “he has hired an attorney to stop” the authors, by tracking them down and threatening a libel lawsuit.
Hubbard says that he has done this because “certain individuals” are trying to damage his good name. But a good reputation is not the private property of Rep. Mike Hubbard. His reputation just is the sum total of other people’s opinions about him; and other people’s opinions of Mike Hubbard belong to the people who have them – not to Mr. Hubbard. If people change their mind about Hubbard after reading about him on blogs, then the comments they read may be true or false, justified or unfounded, honest or malicious. But whatever the negative comments are, they are not “destroying” anything that Hubbard has a right to exclusively control.
You might say, “But the comments were libelous; he has legal rights.” That’s what the law says, but the law is wrong: libel actions are shameful and chilling assaults on the freedom of speech and the press.
If the comments are true, Hubbard has no right to complain about them. If the comments are false, Hubbard – a well-connected politician, and a well-positioned local media owner – has plenty of outlets for responding to the accusations, and more than enough opportunities to peacefully persuade us he’s in the right. Either way, sending a lawyer to intimidate and silence critics is an abuse of power, and the act of a bully – and a desperate one at that. Hubbard ought to be ashamed of himself.
Charles W. Johnson