Impermissible Examples: Burning Friends For A Byline

Whether to write this post was a struggle.* On the one hand, to do so only draws more attention to a bad thing. On the other hand, the writer is someone of so little significance that no one of any worth gives a damn about what he has to say, although in this instance he managed to get a post published at a soapbox somewhat over his head, giving him a broader reach than he could possibly manage on his own.

But there are more hands involved. The people this writer threw under the bus for his own self-aggrandizement are no better served by me adding fuel to this dumpster fire, even if my purposes are better intended. And on the fourth, and final, hand, these people are far more kind and considerate than the little shit who burned them, offering explanations for this bizarre affront. That is, until the writer’s reaction to a request to take the offending post down was met with their friend’s response of “fuck you.”

Sufficiently vague yet? Time to to try to thread this ugly needle. The writer is a self-proclaimed criminal reformer, Rory Fleming, who briefly wrote for the Fair Punishment Project, the same effort that took on Shaun King to buck up its numbers at the expense of its credibility.

He’s one of the new breed of law school graduates filled with self-importance and passion where knowledge, experience and integrity ought to be. He’s a true believer, even if what he believes in is largely nonsensical crap. To be clear, there’s nothing unusual about this, and he’s one of many young people who are out to change the world for the better, even if he wouldn’t know what better was if it bit him in the ass.

Despite having a law degree, he’s no lawyer. He’s never had the experience of actually dealing with people whose lives are on the line, who have to live with the decisions made by someone who puts their cause ahead of their client. He can afford to believe he knows it all because, in his world, the stakes are so low.

Until he burned his friends.

In a post at The Crime Report, he outed three people who thought they were all friends in the cause of criminal law reform. It’s not that these three people’s past lives were big secrets, but these were the worst moments of their lives, the things that happened to them, that they did, that they were not proud of. If their stories are to be told, it was up to them to tell them. It was their choice of when, where and how to expose the nightmares that haunt them.

What it was not was available for fodder for someone they believed to be friend to burn at his convenience, for his own self-aggrandizement to get a byline and a few pennies as a fee for writing. Yet, that’s what Rory Fleming did.

In the post, Fleming exposed the lives, the flaws, the crimes, of three friends. They were throwaway examples, unnecessary to the post. Maybe he just needed filler to make up the requisite number of words. Maybe he couldn’t think of anything else. Maybe he was too lazy to do a little research to find examples that didn’t involve harming friends. Nonetheless he did. With links back to them, so that it wasn’t merely the retelling of his friends’ worst moments, but connections so a reader could dig into their lives, past and current, to get the full flavor of their offenses.

When I saw the post, I was appalled. Why would these three people want to make their lives more miserable, more locked into the worst things anyone could think of when their names came up? What happened to them was bad enough, but it was crazy to make it worse, to make it as bad as it could possibly be. Years ago, it was understood that you are what Google says you are. Why would they want Google to say they were sex offenders?

So I asked one of the people what he was possibly thinking when he agreed to let Fleming use him as an example for his post. That’s when this changed from a bad decision on their part to an outrageous decision by Fleming.

They didn’t agree. They were never asked. They had no idea Fleming doxxed them.

I learned of the post only by Doug Berman picking it up at Sentencing Law and Policy. When one of the three outed friends asked, I contacted Doug to request that he pull down his post because Fleming never sought nor received permission to out them. Doug did so.

Fleming was also asked to take down his post by one of the guys he unceremoniously threw under the bus for his own benefit. He refused. It was explained to Fleming why what he did was wrong, why using information he possessed from friends that was little more than random examples, filler, to his post, harmed these people by spreading their history further, beyond where they chose it to be.

Fleming didn’t care. Worse, he became abusive toward his friends. Children do that, and Fleming is nothing if not infantile. And so he refused to take down his post, to remove their names and links to their current lives. He burned his friends once when he named them in his post without asking their permission. He burned his friends twice when his response was “fuck you.”

Even then, his friends were reluctant to go after Fleming for what he did. Was he just being foolish and immature? He’s shown exceptional hubris and bad judgment in the past, such as going after Ken White for not being as dedicated to the cause as Fleming, in all his legal experience, demanded he be. Me as well. Was he just a child who reacted to everything with defensiveness, no matter how wrong he was? Was he mentally unstable? Maybe, just maybe, he should be forgiven this violation of trust, this disgrace of throwing his friends under the bus.

Or maybe Rory Fleming is a danger and needs to learn that we don’t burn people for a byline and some filler. We don’t needlessly burn people at all. And we surely don’t gratuitously burn our friends.

*You’ll note that I don’t include a link to the post at issue, or give the names of the three people burned. This is deliberate. I am trying not to exacerbate the harm done to those who deserved better.

18 thoughts on “Impermissible Examples: Burning Friends For A Byline

  1. tk

    This is a great example of one of the mot serious flaws in modern journalism, IMO.

    When I went to j-school 40 years ago, I took classes is investigative reporting, communications law, story structure, broadcast journalism, and the like. The journalism ethics curriculum was focused on conflicts of self-interest and bias. Nowhere in the curriculum was there a class that sought to explain how careless words could destroy someone’s life. We were above such pedestrian concerns. No one told us we had to be decent. We were on a mission.

    About 10 years before I retired from the business, I wrote a manual that purported to be a an ethics guide for working journalists (we had a company-wide ethics policy, but precious little guidance on how to apply it). Two things I stressed were quite controversial: Being “gentle” with folks who were not used to dealing with the media, and minimizing collateral damage (injuries to those who were essentially innocent bystanders to your story).

    The seminars we conducted on the manual generated a lot of interesting discussion: The youngsters were outraged that they should actually have to be concerned about such matters. They only thing that mattered was the truth of the individual statements, they said.

    It was the newsroom veterans who got it. Spend a couple of nights without sleep because your truthful story ruined some innocent’s life, and you start building discretion into your writing habits.

    Today, we live in an era of scorched-earth journalism, made all the worst by technology that enables anyone to publish instantly and on-demand, and without the layers of review that once characterized print publishing. Add to it the fanatacism of the SJW, who believes that their ends justifiy every means, and you’ve got a formula that’s essentially designed to randomly destroy people.

    1. Steven Y.

      TK, is your manual publicly available? Reporters, particularly local ones, aren’t considering the impact of what they publish w/ regard to people on registries (a bit more about this is here: [Ed. Note: Link deleted, per rules] in case interested). More training in j-schools on covering registrants responsibly is essential.

      1. SHG Post author

        Crim law reporting has been the subject of numerous posts here. If you read SJ regularly, you would know that, but if you read only one post, you don’t.

  2. Michael M.

    How freakin’ hard would it have been to simply use pseudonyms, or first names only? It would not have detracted from the article a whit. What a douche.

    1. Sonetka

      Even if he had gotten permission, he could have taken a cue from the titans of journalism at Cosmopolitan: “Titus Oates* faces a maze of restrictions as he attempts to rebuild his life.”

      *Name has been changed for the purposes of this article.

    2. Nick Lidakis

      “How did I become that person? It happened because it was exhilarating. Every time I would call someone racist or sexist, I would get a rush. That rush would then be reaffirmed and sustained by the stars, hearts, and thumbs-up that constitute the nickels and dimes of social media validation.”

      Confessions of a Made Man
      July 15, 2018

      Examples of fungible in a Sentence:

      Since social media and journalism are regarded as fungible in this diet, you are allowed a total of five servings of either or both.

  3. Phillip

    Law student here. What an asshole. I could be wrong but I don’t think most of my classmates would be this stupid. Don’t hold it against all of us. He has been unhinged on twitter for a long time now.

  4. B. McLeod

    Social media “friends” are not always real friends. This looks to me like an example of that. Had he been an actual friend, he never would have done this.

    1. LocoYokel

      That might have been true in the past, but I don’t know that you can say that anymore. I see how my daughter interacts with her group of friends from high school and it’s pretty vicious now. Plus there has always been the certain breed of asshole that would do exactly this.

  5. John Barleycorn

    Who knew you were so tribal….? I guess we all did.

    P.S. I bet I will make 40K in the first month, after you sell me the URL, with double-chin cosmetic surgery ads alone. Speaking of which, after you get your shit together and educate the nation about grand jury service you should get busy putting together the definitive “mug shot ” post?

  6. Steve UK

    “*You’ll note that I don’t include a link to the post at issue…”

    At best a purely symbolic gesture that cannot achieve its aim; at worst, disingenuous. How many readers will go to the post out of curiosity?

    1. SHG Post author

      Or I’m constrained to provide a source but don’t have to make it any easier than necessary or give the post incoming hits and link love. It’s more than symbolic. Simplistic assumptions aren’t the same as understanding how the internet works, and choices have to be made.

    2. Kay

      I’m too lazy to research it and frankly I don’t care to know the names. He burned his friends. Moreover, dude in photo has really bad hair so clearly he is a dick. (Assumptions and all that.)

Comments are closed.