Trump donor who backed his $2 billion hotel business with $96 million in COVID loans threatens website for publishing facts and opinions

from again,-‘hurt-feelings’-is-not-an-actionable-request department

Being defensive in the face of criticism is a very human trait. This is often the default response. And that’s completely understandable. Very few people can suppress the urge to fight back – or get revenge – when (as Tom Wolfe said) their ego is stripped of its virginity. As I said, this is an entirely human response.

But when the target of criticism runs a trifecta of multibillion-dollar businesses, knee-jerk reactions should be tempered by the best judgment of presumably expensive legal teams who are there to do just that: cushion the blows of online critics and temper the responses of their victims. employer.

Monty Bennett – a Trump donor with $2.2 billion in combined income from his hotel holdings last year – decided his businesses were small enough to grab some of the ‘small business’ loans the government launched when the hospitality business fell off the cliff in the early months of the COVID outbreak.

As the coronavirus ravaged the United States, the pseudonym “Doktor Zoom” wrote a very critical article for Wonkette about Monty Bennett, the billion-dollar businessman who complained that he could not claim “ that’ $96 million in relief funds. Combining an astonishing mix of resentment and entitlement, Bennett wrote a blog post complaining about the government’s alleged unwillingness to foot the bill for big companies like his.

Meanwhile, Bennett – the self-proclaimed victim of regulations and restrictions on small business loans – did this:

Bennett’s businesses had combined revenue of $2.2 billion last year, but due to the Rona recession, hotels furloughed or outright laid off 95% of their more than 7,000 employees. All of this is so upsetting for Bennett that he had to console himself with very large bonuses, as well as huge dividends from his preferred stock.

While 7,000 employees were left without work, Bennett took home just over $3 million in salary and bonuses. Sure, that was a huge reduction from his nearly $7 million total in 2019, but landing on a few million in pretax income is far better than having no pretax income at all, like nearly 100 % of its employees.

This hurt Bennett’s feelings. And it appears his firms’ legal department is unable or unwilling to dissuade Bennett from making matters worse for himself. Legal threats have been issued against Doktor Zoom and Wonkette.

Last week your beloved Wonkette received a very serious letter accusing us of ALL LIBELSLANDER.

[…]

Monty was, apparently, VERY pissed off that we wrote some real, mean things about him. SO upset, in fact, that 16 months into Dok’s job, he’s decided that Holland & Knight partner Stephen Rasch (aka lawyer for a large, expensive firm) send us a letter, accusing us of smearing his reputation. .

If you want to draw attention to how much of a crook and asshole you are, baseless legal threats to real facts are a great way to do it, as Wonkette’s Jamie Lynn Crofts (who also happens to be a 1st Amendment lawyer):

You have probably come to our website at least once, to read all the true and nasty things you complain about in your letter. So you should at least have an idea of ​​Wonkette’s tone.

Even without doing a quick Google search to see how we might respond to letters like this, did the words “Streisand Effect” really ever cross our minds?

But, again, thank you. Really. Last week was a really rough week and I was in dire need of a little comic relief. And a defamation charge containing such gems as the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “sleazy” was just what I needed.

The whole letter [PDF] is the kind of windy bullshit we’ve covered countless times here at Techdirt. When the facts are against you, unleash the paper tigers to pound the tables, I guess. Pleasure lawyer Stephen Rasch may have ripped off writing these sentences will be the last pleasure he’ll have if he chooses to continue harassing Wonkette, or decides he and his client may want to get kick ass in court.

The article states that Mr. Bennett “exploits[ed] the ‘small’ business loans program” and that his actions were “sleazy as shit”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “sleazy” is defined as meaning “sleazy, corrupt or immoral”. Mr. Bennett and Ashford did not “exploit” the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) or act in a sordid, corrupt or immoral manner.

Thank you, Doctor Dictionary. I’m sure Wonkette and Doktor Zoom knew what the word “dirty” meant when they used it. Quoting the dictionary using the law firm’s header doesn’t make it more workable.

I won’t dissect that really stupid letter again, because Wonkette already did. Here’s the fat lawyer saying things about defamation:

Wonkette erroneously claims that Ashford is “one company pretending it’s several small companies”. This assertion is factually and legally false. Ashford, Inc., Ashford Hospitality Trust, Inc. and Bracmer Hotels and Resorts are separate and legally separate entities. Additionally, hotel properties in Ashford’s portfolio are owned by separate entities from Ashford.

Here’s Wonkette’s legal expert, deftly pointing out how ridiculous that claim is, using the law firm’s own words to prove Wonkette’s point:

I find it really fascinating that the letter you sent us refers to Monty’s business empire as “Ashford’s Portfolio,” but you’d want to make sure we affirmatively note that the companies named things like “Ashford, Inc.” and “Ashford Hospitality Trust, Inc.” are technically, separately and legally separate entities.

That’s only part of it. The whole threatening letter is worth reading for its unintended hilarity. Wonkette’s response is worth reading in its entirety for its deliberate hilarity, as well as its deliberate humiliation of a lawyer apparently paid enough to suppress his better judgment. Opinions (like “sleazy”) are opinions. The facts delivered by Wonkette are factual. And whatever developments may have occurred after the April 2020 post cannot be held against Wonkette, who was reporting known facts at the time of publication.

Oh! And it seems like we were supposed to predict that at some point after our post was published, Monty would be publicly shamed to return the PPP loan money and rehire certain people?

[Threat letter] “Additionally, Ashford subsequently returned all PPP loan funds and rehired numerous furloughed employees.”

Can I have your medium’s number? Looks like you might have a good one. And I’m pretty sure it was all down to the goodness of Monty’s heart and had nothing to do with the multitude of stories about who he is. (I’m sorry. That was mean.)

If anyone should retract anything, it’s Monty Bennett and his legal representatives, who were apparently convinced to act against Bennett’s interests by the guy paying their deposit, who I can only assume, signs his name “Monty Bennett”. But maybe that’s just the kind of stupidity that Holland & Knight — last seen at Techdirt abandoning its defense of First Amendment rights in the face of pressure from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — likes to commit.

Unfortunately, even extremely stupid lawsuits are a burden on those defending themselves against baseless claims. And it’s unclear where the law firm might decide to pursue this lawsuit (it’s located in Texas but Wonkette’s owner, Commie Girl Industries, is located in Montana), which is another reason why a law federal anti-SLAPP is needed to make it easier. so that everyone involved uses the same rules and, better yet, discourages plaintiffs without actionable claims from draining resources from entities that have never defamed them.

Filed Under: covid, criticism, defamation, free speech, government support, monty bennett, payroll protection, ppp

Companies: ashford, wonkette

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