When Tom Wolfe wrote I Am Charlotte Simmons, he interviewed his Duke daughter and Stanford son about their college experiences, and tried to capture what university life would be like for a highly intelligent, young, innocent virgin at an elite school obsessed with frat parties and athletics. It was an enjoyable read. If you want something similar to that, but a non-fiction version with less innocence and more alcohol, check out An education beyond the classroom: excelling in the realm of horizontal academics.
2010 Duke grad Karen Owen facetiously called it her “Senior Honors Thesis.” I summarized it over at my new bloggerly digs:
Owen kept detailed notes on her sexual adventures with 13 members of Duke’s lacrosse, baseball and tennis teams over the last four years. She then put those notes, along with the athletes’ names and photos into a 42-slide PowerPoint presentation, that concludes with a ranking of the 13 on what she calls her “F*** list.” (Congratulations, I suppose, to this guy for topping the list.)
Owen sent it by email to three friends, and then because it was too brilliant, hilarious, and painstakingly-elaborate to keep among four friends, one of them forwarded it on. Like an STD in a frat house, it went viral…
Soon it was circulating on frat listservs around the country, and last week, it was posted on Gawker’s Deadspin and Jezebel sites. When Deadspin first posted the “thesis,” the name of the lacrosse player who topped Owen and her list was not redacted, nor were those of the other 12 athletes who found their way into Owen’s pants and PowerPoint presentation.
Jezebel, who also posted the presentation along with an anonymous interview with Owen, did protect the not-so-innocent, blurring out the athletes’ faces and redacting their names. Jezebel and Deadspin are both part of the Gawker empire, but appear to have gotten different legal advice.
Twenty-four hours and 300,000 page views later, Deadspin went ahead and redacted names (though it left the athletes’ photos untouched). Why? Probably because Duke lacrosse players have lawyers on speed dial.
When Deadspin made its changes, it put up a new post titled “Duke Players Incensed, Paranoid Over ‘Fuck List,’” explaining why it had changed its policy:
There were phone calls from angry parents, there were other cryptic emails from phony addresses saying things like “this is starting to ruin people’s lives and jobs” etc. Also, it appears one of the men named was getting married this weekend. So we took out the names. The photos are still there because I don’t see the point in blurring them out right now, considering it’s fairly easy to find out who they are (if you want to) even with their faces all smudgy.
Some Duke players were probably more incensed than others, like the tennis star who ranked at the bottom of her list for being “terrible.” Describing him as “rude, Canadian, and [speaking] mostly in French,” Owen said he “did not even bother to kiss me more than a few seconds, and finished in about five minutes, after which he simply walked out of the room and did not return.” Go Duke!
On the moral and ethical level, this is obviously a whole lotta privacy invasion — on the part of Owen for sharing the athletes’ sexual performances with her friends, on the part of her friend for forwarding it on without Owen’s permission, and on the part of the blogs for posting Owen’s presentation and exposing the identities of all the athletes. But what about invasion of privacy on the legal level?
As technology law professor Eric Goldman pointed out, the incident bears a strong resemblance to that of the Washingtonienne blog run by Jessica Cutler (brought to the attention of the world by the political blog Wonkette, formerly owned by Gawker and edited by Lat). Cutler detailed her equally scandalous (but less muscle-heavy) sexual adventures with Capitol Hill staffers and other denizens of D.C.
One of her former paramours (and co-workers), who is now a law professor, claimed that he was easily identifiable, even though Cutler referred to her sexual partners by initials only. He sued Cutler, Wonkette, and Cutler’s book publisher (yes, she got a book deal out of it, just as Owen might). Steinbuch claimed invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress. That suit has dragged out over five years, writes Goldman:
[T]he long-running Steinbuch v. Cutler lawsuit [involved] law professor/plaintiff Robert Steinbuch (now at UALR) claiming privacy violations against a blogger. That legal battle hasn’t turned out so well for Steinbuch. Putting aside a number of substantive losses along the way, the lawsuit has been going nearly 5 years with no clear end in sight. Some of the delay was caused by Cutler’s bankruptcy, but much more of it was due to the inherent weakness of judicial proceedings as a redress for unwanted speech. And in the end, I don’t think the lawsuit has done much to enhance Steinbuch’s reputation as a law professor or otherwise.
Steinbuch’s various lawsuits were finally settled late last year.
Will the Duke athletes file suit? Or will they decide that tales of their five-minute pleasures aren’t worth five years of litigation?
Excited HarperCollins Editor Says “Fuck List” Author Is “Female Tucker Max” [Jezebel]
College Girl’s PowerPoint “Fuck List” Goes Viral [Jezebel]
A Vigorous Defense Of Karen Owen, Duke Fuck List Author, Hero [Deadspin]
Duke Players Incensed, Paranoid Over ‘Fuck List’ [Deadspin]
The Full Duke University “Fuck List” Thesis From A Former Female Student (UPDATE) [Deadspin]
Steinbuch v. Cutler Update [Technology & Marketing Law Blog]
Robert Steinbuch Loses Another Round–Steinbuch v. Hachette [Technology & Marketing Law Blog]
Law Professor Sues Over ‘Above the Law’ Blog Posts–Jones v. Minkin [Technology & Marketing Law Blog]
The Privacy Landmine That is Duke Graduate Karen Owen’s ‘Senior Thesis’ [The Not-So Private Parts/Forbes]