Video Clerk With Blog Harrasses Tucker Carlson, Gets Fired

Buried on page C3 of yesterday’s WaPo is a story about a bizarre encounter between television commentator Tucker Carlson and a (now-former) 28-year-old video store clerk with a blog.

Potomac Video store clerk Charles Williamson, 28, posted a message on his blog, Freelance Genius, Dec. 23 that described how he set up a movie rental account for MSNBC host Tucker Carlson at the MacArthur Boulevard store the day before.

“I could tell you what he and his ridiculously wasped-out female companion (wife?) rented if you really want to know,” he wrote. “I won’t tell you where he lives, though. That would be wrong and stupid.” Williamson also joked that he wouldn’t send 10,000 copies of Jon Stewart’s best-selling political satire, “America (The Book),” to Carlson’s home; Stewart ridiculed Carlson on “Crossfire” before the 2004 election.

A week later, Williamson had forgotten all about it, he told us yesterday. That is, until Carlson, 37, reappeared at the video store and, said Williamson, “got pretty aggressive.” According to Williamson, Carlson confronted him about the blog and said he viewed the post as a threat to him and his wife. “He said, ‘If you keep this [expletive] up, I will [expletive] destroy you,’ ” Williamson recalled.

Williamson said he agreed to remove the blog post and did so later that night: “All I remember thinking was I was worried about what this guy was going to do.” He consulted a lawyer friend and was told he had probably not broken any laws. “What I said was pretty juvenile, I’ll admit,” he said.

In a phone interview Thursday, Carlson acknowledged that he approached Williamson in the store and said he was “very aggressive” because he wanted the post removed: “I don’t like to call the police or call his boss. . . . I’m a libertarian. I’m not into that.”

On Monday, Williamson said, his Potomac Video manager called and fired him. Williamson said he was told the company was threatened with legal action “and the owner doesn’t like that.” He re-posted the original Carlson item later that day. Williamson said he later learned that a man who identified himself as a lawyer for Carlson had been in the store and asked Potomac Video employees questions about him.

Carlson told us that he was concerned for the safety of his family, but did not threaten legal action against the company or push to have Williamson, who still has his office-manager day job, fired. “He implied he was going to come and do something to my house,” Carlson said. “I’ve got four kids at home and I’ve had serious problems with stalkers twice. . . . This guy is threatening to come to my house and I’m on the road all the time. What would you do? This guy is threatening my family.”

Carlson said he took no further action and said he couldn’t have called his lawyer because he doesn’t have one. “He’s trying to make it sound like I’m this big, bad guy trying to hurt the video store clerk,” he said. “I don’t understand why he’s hassling me. I just wanted to rent a Woody Allen movie.”

Joe Gandelman, who send out an e-mail alert about this story, thinks this is a David and Goliath situation. Patrick Frey, though, thinks “the guy deserved to be fired.”

So do I.

I don’t have any problem with a guy blogging that a famous person came into the shop. But I would use the same word as Patrick, “creepy,” to describe this post:

Tucker Carlson opened an account last night at my video store. I thought the name seemed familiar but I couldn’t figure out why. It was after he left that I realized he was on the list of Gigantic Cobagz. I could tell you what he and his ridiculously wasped-out female companion (wife?) rented if you really want to know. I won’t tell you where he lives, though. That would be wrong and stupid. I will also not be running around ordering 10,000 copies of America: The Book and having it sent to his place even if that would be more awesome than frozen urine treats for his home.

Would I perceive that as a threat were I Carlson? Probably not. I might well report this to the store manager, though. I’m pretty sure that they don’t want their clerks violating the privacy of their customers, famous or otherwise. They collect address information for legitimate business reasons; using or even threatening to use it for other reasons is quite likely actionable.

It’s yahoos like Williamson who give bloggers a bad name. Outside the still-relatively-small group of people who read political blogs on a regular basis, most people think of crap like “Freelance Genius” when they think of blogs. Any idiot can get an account on Blogspot and start sending their drivel across the Internet(s), so why should we take it seriously?

Bloggers are, in the broadest sense of the word, journalists, publishing writing for public consumption. The First Amendment guarantees all manner of protections for that enterprise. But, as Stan Lee told us long ago (in the person of the fictional Ben Parker), with great power comes great responsibility. If we use our platform for libel, threat, or harassment we risk the consequences of those actions.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Rick DeMent says:

    Fact is most blogs are closer to “Freelance Genius” then “Outside the Beltway”. Which is to say that 90% of everything is crap and OTB is a damn good blog despite the fact that I don’t agree with the general tenor of the politics here. (That was a compliment BTW James, take it for what it’s worth)

  2. James Joyner says:

    Thanks, Rick.

    And I’m sure you’re right on the percentages; indeed, it’s probably more than 90%. That’s the reason I get irritated when we’re all lumped in together as “bloggers” by the press and treated as if we’re all the same animal.

  3. I was recently fired for a posting on my blog and I understand why the blogger did what he did.

    When you have a small readership (under 50 hits a day) that consists mostly of bloggers you link and personal friends and family, you tend to forget that your posts are open to anyone with access to the internet.
    In my case, I posted about how people are lazy and would rather complain about radio stations than admit that the public owns the airwaves and is more responsible for content than the owner of the station. – My former boss took that as a threat and fired me.
    I would never have broadcast that opinion on the radio, but on my personal blog with less than 30 daily readers (99% of them being people I know)I am more open with my opinions.
    It’s the sign of a dull mind.
    “As if (name) is ever going to read my blog”.

    It’s not like the post came up on the first page of a Tucker Carlson google search.
    Tucker probably had over 5,000 google hits to search through before he got to this guy and his nothing blog.
    Not that I’m defending the actions of said blogger. I’m just saying that he was betting the odds that anyone outside of his established readership would ever read the post.
    Truth is, this guy could have sat in a bar and spoke the same thing that he typed with no problems at all.
    Not all bloggers are journalists. When your readership is under 25 people a day, you don’t feel like you have “great power” like Spiderman.
    Having access to Tucker Carlson’s home address isn’t great power either.
    Jon Stewart getting Tucker to toss the bow tie…
    That’s Power!

  4. Stormy70 says:

    I understand why he was fired, since he is bringing up his access to a customer’s personal information and bandying it about on a blog. This guy also had access to credit card numbers, etc. As a business owner, I would not trust this employee as far as I could throw him. Politics has nothing to do with it, it will hurt the reputation of the video store.

    Tucker did what anyone would have done in this situation.

  5. Richard Gardner says:

    As for Tucker Carlson searching through thousands of Google hits, I’m sure he, or his employer, use a tracking service that daily provides media mentions. You can do so yourself by using “Google Alerts,” so long as you have a name that isn’t too common – if your name is John Smith, forget it.

  6. Patterico says:

    “As if (name) is ever going to read my blog”.

    First rule of blogging: always assume that anyone you write about will see your post, and will know you wrote it.

  7. James Joyner says:

    always assume that anyone you write about will see your post, and will know you wrote it

    Yup. That has the double advantage of forcing you to think a couple seconds about what you’re writing, too.

  8. Mark says:

    I have only blogged about meeting a famous personality once – and that was when I ended up behind Tommy Thompson (then HHS Secretary) at Arby’s. Yes he was at Arby’s, and I just had to note the irony of it all…

  9. carpeicthus says:

    I’m with you on this. I love the idea of a video store clerk having “great power,” though.

    Now if only it were from this great blog I used to read from someone who worked in a *porn* video store.

  10. carpeicthus says:

    Haha, seeing the HHS secretary at Arby’s is hilarious. But also completely kosher to post — there’s no threat implied or privileged information at risk.

  11. Bithead says:

    It amazes me that this hasn’t been brought up, here, yet; what about the privacy of information?

    A very short time ago we were being treated to a LAN screams of horror from the left, about how Bush was going to be using video store records, as well as other purchases, against anyone who dissented, which of course one could assume to include the left.

    Funny, though, that the privacy of Tucker Carlson is information isn’t being taken with the same degree of seriousness by those defending this blogger.

    Are we now going to argue that it’s less damaging when someone not involved with the government does it?

    On the other hand, can you imagine the stink that would occur if somebody had done this with, say, Anderson Cooper? I wonder, for example, if the left of the ‘sphere would be quite so defensive. I rather tend to doubt it.

    Perhaps the whole thing simply centers around somebody trying to get in a cheap shot against somebody speaking to the right of center, huh?

  12. anjin-san says:

    I don’t really care for Carlson, but he is certainly entitled to his privacy, and the blogger in question deserved to lose his job.

  13. Anderson says:

    Yeah, if the clerk had just written “wow, Tucker Carlson came into my store & rented something!” that would’ve been fine.

    I do think Carlson overreacted, though. You can have a legitimate basis for a reaction & it still be more than is prudently called for.