Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Luke Ford's court fight is big news

Anthony Pellicano’s legal troubles make the lead of the LA Times today, while Hollywood’s most bizarre and potentially important lawsuit crawls its way through LA Superior Court.

Luke Ford is being sued for defamation and libel by Jeff Wald, the big time Hollywood producer and manager best remembered for TV hits like Roseanne and his outrageous behaviour in the Seventies when he was married to and managing Helen Reddy.

This is a case the LA Times should assign a couple of reporters to look into. It’s got classic David & Goliath elements, connections to porn, religion, old Hollywood, William Morris and Internet rights, and a couple of colorful characters going head-to-head.

Wald is an accomplished, well-connected member of the Hollywood establishment. Luke is a renegade with a desktop computer, part of journalism’s future. The clash goes back to 2002, when Luke interviewed Wald, posted the interview on one of his websites, and then allegedly received a phone call from Wald demanding he remove the post because he didn’t like what Luke had written. Luke posted a transcript of the phone call. More postings followed. Wald sued in 2005.

Which leads to a few questions, at least: Can a public and historically controversial figure like Wald be defamed in the first place? What's fair game on the Internet? And who the hell is Luke Ford?

The defamation complaint states that “defamatory publications of false and libelous subject matter statement concerning Wald had a somewhat long history of publication on lukeford.net… new and additional false and defamatory statements…after December 2004 are false, libelous and defamatory subject matter concerning Wald’s religion, morality, honesty and character as a human being…”

Luke’s response notes that “Plaintiff's complaint touches upon important underlying Constitutional considerations in that Defendant's actions in this matter involve core First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press as it relates to the Internet… Enforcing a judgment against him… would risk chilling Defendant's speech. It would also have the potential to chill the speech of others throughout the Internet who post ‘blogs’ (Internet web logs) and who are increasingly worried about the legal liabilities of ‘blogging.’”

On the surface, it’s a case of Wald, the powerbroker vs. Luke the powerblogger.

But it’s really a one-sided battle against one man in one room with one computer and a couple of websites.

Luke Ford is a very unique force in the media world. He’s as influential as Matt Drudge in the development of the Internet as a news source, and a pioneer in blogging as an art form.

The Luke Ford that exists on the Internet is a fascinatingly complex character and an archetypal literary anti-hero. He’s Holden Caulfield meets Alexander Portnoy behind a stack of bloomin’ onion rings in a kosher Outback steakhouse on Pico Boulevard: Australian, a Seventh Day Adventist turned Orthodox Jew, with obsessions for shiksas, porn, Hollywood and Dennis Prager.

And Air Supply.

Add chronic fatigue syndrome and you’ve got a great invention that outclasses Jimmy Frey’s tough guy crybaby. Except that Luke, constantly chronicling his constant struggle with his faith in G-d and attraction to p-rn, is real.

We first ran into Luke on the web about five years ago, when he commented on the book Tabloid Baby and a brief passage on tabloid television’s clash with Hollywood’s “Velvet Mafia.” Later, we spoke with Luke while researching the groundbreaking documentary series, Adults Only: The Secret History of The Other Hollywood for Court TV. Luke ran a website that covered the porn industry (he sold it, then started a new one). Obsessively. But he was not of the industry. He hated it. He hated the people who exploited young flesh and hated the side of himself that drew him to it. All that turned up on the website, along with straight coverage of the business. The people in the porn industry didn’t necessarily like Luke. In fact many of them disliked him and his site. But they had a chronicler.

Luke also covers the media and Hollywood. Eventually, Luke interviewed the author of Tabloid Baby more than once. Once on the phone, and later in person. Both times, Luke had a tape recorder running and we knew it. The interviews were transcribed and whipped into online stories within hours, not days. And they were spot-on accurate. Luke’s observations were sharp. He did not have an agenda or slant. Some of what was written was not flattering. Some of it was wince-making. Occasionally, it was a surprise to find something included. But it was right.

When we first met Luke at Book Soup on the Sunset Strip, at a literary event for Legs McNeil’s book, The Other Hollywood, Luke was a serious presence amid the punk, lit and porn lowlifes assembled. Within hours, Luke’s report of the event was on the Internet.

Luke is a chronicler of our times in a way we’re not used to being chronicled. Now he’s gathering cases of child molesting rabbis while continuing his conflicted search for a woman. Bubbling beneath is his legal fight.

Last week, we asked Luke about the case via email:

How did it start?
I interviewed Jeff Wald July 2, 2002. I sent him a transcript afterward. He didn't like what I wrote up about him, particularly my mentioning he had a pot-belly and that I quoted a poem his son wrote about Jeff's struggles with cocaine (that Jeff showed me during the interview).

How did it get to court?
He asked me to take down the profile. I refused. He sued me in September, 2005.

Do you have a lawyer?
Yes. My friend Justin Levine is defending me pro bono.

Where does it stand now?
Going through various motions before the judge.

How can people help or support you?
I don't think I need any help.

Since then, according to Luke, Judge Lisa Hart Cole has recused herself and the case has been reassigned to Judge James A. Bascue in Department West N, 1725 Main Street, Santa Monica.

We keep reading about “bloggers rights.” Quietly, casually, in his roundabout way, Luke is forcing the issue to be played out in court. And he could wind up making a federal case of it. So get on board and keep an eye on this case.


Anonymous said...

Well, after catching Luke Ford's posts in the personals of Craig's List, it's nice to know he's not just another fly-by-night (though I'm not sure I'd want to date him!)

Joe said...

"Luke Ford is a very unique force in the media world. He's as influential as Matt Drudge in the development of the Internet as a news source"

Umm ... that's what an exaggeration there. Drudge broke a story that almost brought down the President of the United States. Ford did what? Tell us about which porn stars have HIV or get beaten by their husbands?