Dont criticize this column or . . .

Ive decided to sue some people for big money, and since you might be one of them, I thought you should know.

I wont be suing just anybody, of course. Ill be focusing on those readers whove written letters complaining about my Editors Page columns (you know who you are). In particular, I plan to sue those whove written something derogatory about my character or my beliefs or my intelligence.

I got the idea from a Texas cattleman named Paul Engler. In case you havent heard, Engler has sued talk-show diva Oprah Winfrey and vegetarian activist Howard Lyman, claiming that during a 1996 Winfrey show on mad-cow disease -- on which Winfrey swore off burgers -- Winfrey and Lyman disparaged the safety of American beef. Beef prices -- already sagging -- dropped the next day. Engler claims that he lost $6.7 million as a result. Englers suit asks that Winfrey and Lyman be held responsible for his and his fellow plaintiffs losses, as well as other, unspecified damages.

That got me to thinking. Like most editors, Ive been called all kinds of things for what Ive written -- intolerant, goofy, amoral, foolish, politically correct, and confused, among others. I have been told that I am going to hell (although most of the damnation crowd have been kind enough to offer a prayer for me), and that I must be a communist. My all-time favorite is the reader who found my opinions so obnoxious that he believed I "epitomize the disease of our nation."

Until now I, like most editors, considered this kind of name-calling and disagreement the price of having an opinion (and an Editors Page) in an open society that values free speech. But Engler and his fellow plaintiffs have convinced me otherwise. In fact, I am now certain that the actions of these epithet-hurling letter-writers -- all of whom dared to disagree with my point of view -- have cost me big money, in the way of large book contracts not signed, editorial positions not secured, and even MacArthur Foundation genius grants not conferred. So Im going to sue all those letter-writers for the money I didnt make as a result of their reckless defamation of my character and my talent. I calculate my total losses at roughly $6.7 million, give or take a million or three for other, unspecified damages.

Some of you old-fashioned types may insist that you have a right to argue the merits of my columns like any other products you consume, be they ideas or television programs or even beef. But I say that in a society where a cattleman can sue a talk show host for the consequences of his own participation in a market known for its volatility, youd better think twice before you disagree with me.

Or else I might have to sue you, too.

Send e-mail messages to John Brandt at [email protected]

TAGS: Legislation
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