Perplexing Policy

Disgruntled Student Offers Me a $500 Bribe to Take Down Blog

I’m still in shock it happened. I was sitting at my cubicle at work on a Friday evening, texting friends about the night’s plans, when I saw an email in my inbox titled “Article [Important].”

Hello Ms. Swanson,
I hope all is well with you and your studies. As you might imagine, being a senior at UM, I have been actively looking for jobs in order to have plans for after graduation.
While interviewing with a HR recruiter from a M&A advisory firm in the UAE I have been asked if I was the guy described in one of your articles. I was not aware of the existence of the article at the time and I was caught by surprise. After reviewing the article I can only imagine how many potential employers, while reviewing my applications, ended up finding such a discrediting picture of me. The event you were told about was an unfortunate chain of misunderstandings and I am sure if you met me in person you would know I would never say or do something like that.
I am a devoted UM student and I have put so much time and effort in creating my resume and my transcript. I am writing to you today hoping that you could consider taking the article off. I believe the journalistic relevance of the article is not essential for your career. Also, you would do a fellow UM student a huge favor, allowing him to have more chances to get a job. Finally, my family is known in my country and the article could discredit them too.
It goes without saying that I will be very grateful to you and I will be at your disposal for anything you might need!
I didn’t know what to do. At first, I didn”t recognize his name or even the blog he claims he was mentioned in. I assumed it was a seemingly innocent police report filed because of an intoxicated student, a poor kid who succumbed to peer pressure and binge drinking . However, when I searched the blog for his name, I realized what he reportedly did (Student Allegedly Threatens Dean’s Secretary Claiming to Have a Gun), and realizing the severity of the crime, felt it was too serious to dismiss. Also, as a journalism major in my last semester, I’ve taken enough classes on the First Amendment and media law to know a police report is public record. It’s the premise of my blog, after all.
At that moment, I didn’t want to take the blog down. I stood by my reporting. It was accurate and quoted a police report. I forwarded the email to one of my professors, and we messaged back-and-forth about ethical issues. We decided to settle the matter in class the following week.
Three days later –before I could go to class to discuss the issue with the rest of the class and my professor– the student emailed me again. But this time from a different email.
Hello Ms. Swanson,
I hope all is well. I still have not received a reply to the email I sent you last week. I hope it is not too much of a big deal. It unfortunately is a big deal to me since my name is quite unique and it makes your article pop up right away when googled.Please let me know if you are willing to take the article down as soon as you can. It is a pressing matter.
Sensing his desperation, I reasoned with him. I responded:
Hi, I’m in the middle of talking to my professor about it. We’re meeting tomorrow evening to discuss it. I’m not willing to take it down, but I can take out your name.
Looking back, I don’t know why I did that. I thought since his name wasn’t pertinent to the story,  it would be OK to take the name out. But the more I reasoned, the more I came to understand the value in reporting that a student allegedly threatened a dean’s secretary (at our school) with a gun. In the wake of Newtown, school violence and gun reform are especially serious.
Within minutes he responded.
Hello Ms. Swanson:
First of all, thank you for your reply. I understand you would like to consult with one of your professors before making any decision.
I understand that, as of now, your are not considering taking down the article. I have consulted attorneys though. I hope you could reconsider in order to save us a lot of time and money. 
You are welcome to consult with your professor and your attorneys. I am willing to compensate you for taking down the article forever if this were to happen by Friday March 7th. However, if the article is still up by Friday March 7th I will be forced, mostly by my family, to initiate legal actions.
I really hope you will make the best decision for both of us and save us both time and money.
Suddenly, I felt as if I were being attacked or had done something wrong. I wasn’t the one who allegedly threatened the dean’s secretary with a gun; I’m just an eager journalism student who requests all the police reports filed on campus.
There was something in the tone of this email that rubbed me the wrong way. It might’ve been the mention of attorneys or the ominous deadline or even that vague reference to “compensation.”
And even though I didn’t question the legality of the blog (I have a copy of the police report that backs up my claims), I took this problem to my editors at my internship, other professors, and even one of my pre-law friends. All told me not to sweat it. I was in the clear since I had attributed every claim to the police report. My pre-law friend even explained that if this student (who I very generously do not name in this entire blog) takes me to court, I could file a counter-suit for a frivolous law suit and have all attorney fees recovered.
I responded the next day:
I spoke with my professors and a lawyer and I am going to keep the article up. I’m sorry about the inconvenience. The blog is based on a police report I have which is public record (anyone, including potential employers, can request it). You can contact University of Miami Police at 305-284-6666 about the report, and your case number is 13-008283.
He then responded:
Hello Ms. Swanson:
Will you leave my name in the article or will you take it off as you said in the previous email?
Do you have a phone number my lawyers can reach either you or your lawyer at?
To which I said:
I’d rather not give you my phone number. I’ll speak to my lawyer tomorrow and check with him before giving his number out too. I said in an earlier email I was willing to change your name, but I am not willing to anymore because I don’t want it to look like an admittance of fault.
And then I received the email every ethics class warned me about.
Ms. Swanson:
I really advise you to act rationally. As I said, all I want is for you to take off that unfair picture of me from the internet. I am more than willing to compensate you monetarily for it, you can just give me an amount that sounds fair to you.
But we should close this matter now before it escalates unnecessarily. I promise you that if you won’t do anything I will sue you, no doubt about that. Whether you want it or not you’ll need to hire your lawyer and pay him a lot of money. I will fight you in court as much as I can and I can afford it and I will win. Also, there is a UM rule which prevents any interference with UM and Police investigation: I will fight you in a UM court too. Will you be willing to spend thousands of dollars in order to keep a defamatory article up for a little longer?
I propose to you to accept 500$ in exchange for taking off the article permanently. You won’t need to admit any fault, just agree to take it off forever.
Please let me know what you decide to do tonight.
My head was spinning when I read the email. Not because I was scared of being dragged to court, but because it felt like I stopped living my life and was actually on an episode of House of Cards.
I’m completely confident with that blog and the rest of them on this site. So I didn’t respond that night or ever. And the blog is still up. My bank account might have less than $500 in it, but it seems like my integrity is worth more than that which is more than I can say for this kid — should’ve bribed the dean secretary’s with that $500 instead. But you know what they say, shoot first, bribe student journalists later.
(Oh, and his “attorneys” haven’t gotten back to me and it’s April!)

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