Second Statement Regarding Enthusiast Gaming/Escapist Lawsuit
UPDATE #1 (December 21, 2018): In response to the lawsuit, the fact that the rights to the second year of Garwulf’s Corner columns needed to be negotiated, and quite possibly this post, the entirety of Garwulf’s Corner has been removed from The Escapist. I am seeking a new home for them (I happen to hold the copyright to all of them), and if anybody wants to read them prior to finding them a new home, they are available on the Wayback Machine at Archive.org.
UPDATE #2 (December 21, 2018): Motion materials have now been filed, and the affidavits of myself and Joshua Vanderwall are now public documents. I have added the redacted versions of them to the collection.
My daughter, Isabel, was born at 2:00am EDT on August 11th. It was a long night, but it might go down as one of the best in my life — after nine months of waiting, I finally got to meet my daughter and hold her in my arms (in fact, that is in the above photo).
I imagine anybody who has children will understand the power of that moment, and the awesome responsibility it entails. Little Isabel deserves a great childhood, and the best start at life possible, and I want to give it to her. Before July 26th, that would not have been a problem.
Today, however, it’s a lot harder.
As has been reported, I am right now suing Enthusiast Gaming Inc. for libel. This post is not about the details of my libel suit, although I will talk about it in brief. This post is about why I’m doing it, and what I discovered after I filed.
Why I’m Going to Court
I spent two years working at the Escapist as a pop culture columnist, with a centrist political viewpoint that has the potential to piss off both sides of the divide. So, I have no doubt that plenty of people have declared me to be some “SJW” or uninformed right-wing idiot or the like. It’s false, but no prospective employer or publisher is likely to give it any serious consideration. There may be cases of people losing out on a job because they posted something abhorrent on Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit, but I don’t know of any example where somebody lost out on a job because a denizen of Reddit called them an “SJW.”
But Russ Pitts is not an anonymous voice on Twitter, Reddit, or Facebook. He’s a respected editor in the pop culture media, one of the founders of Polygon, and a former editor of The Escapist, and somebody with a lot of perceived knowledge and authority. When he makes an allegation, people will take it seriously, and they are more likely to take him at his word than they are to dig deeper and verify if he’s right. Unlike a certain childhood saying starting with sticks and stones, these words have a devastating impact.
For one thing, now that he’s painted me, along with my fellow contributors and editors, with these allegations, I may very well be blacklisted from a number of major pop culture outlets. There are some people I can still work for, but they’re the ones who know me and who I’ve worked with before, and they are few and far between. Anybody else might look at my work history, remember Russ Pitts’ allegations about The Escapist, its content, and its editorial staff at that time, and decide to go with somebody else. So, getting an article into Wired, or Polygon, or Gamasutra has just been made more difficult, if not impossible.
A side effect of this is that two years of my work in pop culture commentary has now been devalued to the point that I may need to take it off my LinkedIn page and remove it from my portfolio. This includes Garwulf’s Corner, a column which succeeded in creating a bona fide marketplace of ideas and a safe space for discussion of multiple viewpoints; Fooling Garwulf, a feature column that covered the performance art of magic and opened it up to the general public in a new way; and the preferred version of For the Digital Green Fields of Aldamar (the one where the character based on my best friend from high school WASN’T whitewashed). I’m proud of all that work and what it accomplished — and now it may all end up being erased.
But, you might think, if somebody has a support network, that would mitigate a lot of this, right? Except that part of my support network is the Jewish community, in which I have some degree of standing. That standing is now in serious jeopardy, and I must face the possibility of being ostracized from my own religion at some point in the near future.
Remember that bright future for my daughter Isabel that I mentioned? I’m now terrified that it will be strangled in its crib. And that is why I filed.
But, there are ways in which this gets even worse.
The Real Russ Pitts
One of the things that happens once you start a proceeding like this is that you gain access to a lot of information that was previously hidden. When this started, one of my colleagues from The Escapist described Russ Pitts, whose real name is Christian Russell Fletcher, as “the Harvey Weinstein of the video game media.” At first, I didn’t believe it — I thought it was an exaggeration born out of an office feud. After everything I’ve now seen about him and from him, I’m inclined to believe it.
Prior to Enthusiast’s most recent filing, a motion to dismiss with a second sworn affidavit by Russ Pitts, I didn’t really understand how nasty a piece of work he is. I expected excuses, and they were there in both of Russ Pitts’ affidavits (in fact, between the first affidavit, the statement of defence, and the second affidavit, there are three different versions of who/what the comments were directed at and where the information leading to them came from). But I did not expect a concerted attack on freedom of speech itself.
But, one was there, along with a suggestion that any editor has an obligation to suppress right-wing thought. For the sake of brevity and not getting sidetracked, I’m not going to go into detail about it — it’s in the filings, and there are links to them above and below for those who want to read them.
I wish I could say that’s all, but it’s not. After Defy Media went down, certain people felt more free to talk about what had happened there, and what it was like to work in the same office as Russ Pitts. And, well, what I read as affidavits came in was horrifying. Again, for brevity’s sake, I’m not going to go into detail, but you’ll find an accounting of it based on sworn written testimony in paragraphs 15, 16, and 17 of the reply, and I think anybody who has to deal with him should probably read it.
The Bad Faith of Enthusiast Gaming
And here’s where it gets even worse — Enthusiast Gaming knew that the comments were false and defamatory, and even acknowledged it to my fellow contributors over the phone, and then refused to issue a retraction. That’s right: the owner of The Escapist, Destructoid, PC Invasion, Nindendo Enthusiast, and dozen of other websites in the video game media allowed their newest editor to libel over a dozen people with potentially life-destroying consequences, and then stood by him in public while making assurances in private to avoid having to face any consequences. Enthusiast Gaming Inc., along with its subsidiary, Enthusiast Gaming Media Inc., put the future of my little baby girl, Isabel, in jeopardy. And if this can happen to me and my colleagues at The Escapist, it can happen to any writer or editor at any new outlet Enthusiast Gaming acquires.
This is one of the reasons I’m making this case as public as I can. I don’t want to — I’ve been waiting for months for Enthusiast Gaming to come to the table in good faith to negotiate a settlement and retraction that will allow everybody to get on with their lives. In fact, one of the reasons I’m posting this is to try to bring them to the table. They could have ended this nightmare for all of us who worked at or for The Escapist with a single retraction…and they won’t. Christian Russell Fletcher, aka Russ Pitts, may have put us all in danger, but it is Enthusiast Gaming Inc. that has kept us there for the last five months.
Every time I served them a document since this was converted from an application to an action by the court, I’ve stressed that I believe that this can be resolved out of court, hoping that they would come to the table and make an offer to fix this and get my family’s future out of danger. I finally got an statement that I could make an offer at any time, so I did…and I received a flat rejection six minutes later. It is now clear that Enthusiast Gaming Inc. has no intention of doing the right thing.
This has even destroyed my health, leaving me debilitated on Prednisone to treat a Crohn’s Flare for around two months. It forced me to lose almost every single one of my professional projects and obligations. That little baby girl of mine — I didn’t have the stamina to hold her for more than a couple of minutes at a time thanks to the side effects of this drug. I’m finally getting off of the Prednisone, but I’ve lost a lot of time, I’ve got a professional practice to rebuild, and I’ve got to do that without being able to use two years of some of my proudest work as I seek new clients.
I won’t lie — I’m terrified. I’m terrified that thanks to this defamation I won’t be able to bring everything back together. I’m terrified that I won’t be able to provide for my little girl.
But, as the saying goes, sometimes the only way out is through. And people need to know what is going on. They need to know that Enthusiast Gaming, one of the major players in the video game media today, sees nothing wrong with defamation and endangering families. So, I am releasing all of the relevant pleadings in this case to the public, as well as all the sworn testimony. You can read and download them all here. I have redacted contact information where necessary, but otherwise, these are complete (with the exception of the original Notice of Application, which was accidentally overwritten), and new documents will be added as they are filed with the court and become available. The full story is here, and I hope that people read it and see the truth at last.
EDIT: As much as I hate to do it, the legal expenses are about to break $1,500, and I have to ask for help. So, I’ve set up a GoFundMe, which can be found here. Any amount helps.