The Criminal Mind

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:20

    "You'll recall it all started in August when the Voice ran Rall's midlife-crisis rant against comics guru Art Spiegelman, of whom he seems hugely envious, prompting furious online debate among comics types, including a Hellman parody of Rall. Rall is suing Hellman for defamation and loss of potential income (he claims he was in Hollywood pitching a concept for a sitcom and was so 'distracted' by Hellman's prank that the pitch went poorly)."

    Danny Hellman has never written any such "parody of Rall." What Hellman did, in fact, was write a mass e-mail spamming under my name addressed to an as-yet-undetermined number of editors, fellow cartoonists and others, carefully constructed in my writing style in order to, as Hellman has admitted in print, inflict emotional distress. It was an e-mail impersonation, not a parody.

    In addition, there is another inaccuracy (lie?) in Strausbaugh's piece. Contrary to what he wrote, Hellman did, in fact, offer to settle in terms that were acceptable in every respect except monetarily. The amount that he offered was insufficient.

    I expect Strausbaugh to issue a retraction/correction that accurately reflects my cause of action in New York State Supreme Court. As things currently stand, he has libeled my reputation by stating, inaccurately, that I filed a lawsuit against Hellman over a parody when this did not, in fact, happen.

    On a personal note, I would also ask Strausbaugh to consider the following facts when he next decides to mouth off on a topic about which he knows absolutely nothing and has not bothered to call its principal subject:

    First, Hellman is also being sued for threatening my life, offering bounties to assault me and/or damage my property. He has never retracted those threats or bounties. Those charges were also approved by the judge on Monday.

    Second, Hellman arranged for his pal Sam Henderson (a guy so irresponsible and deranged that he once sent a death threat to the President under another cartoonist's name) to post my home address and phone number in the Comics Journal discussion boards in a straightforward attempt to encourage Hellman's supporters to harass and threaten me at home. I have since received death threats against both myself and my wife related to the Henderson/Hellman fiasco.

    Third, Danny's not the only one spending tons of money on legal fees. I'm out more than $8000, which I can't afford any more than he can. Unfortunately, the only two options when faced with a direct threat to one's livelihood?watch your life destroyed without acting, or go broke paying lawyers?are equally unpalatable. I seriously doubt that anyone faced with these unprovoked attacks would have acted any differently.

    Fourth, none of these legal shenanigans would ever have transpired if Danny had simply allowed me to send out a retraction of his e-mail impersonation to those who received it. As of this writing, Danny still has refused to turn over a complete list of the editors and cartoonists he originally e-mailed. Why? What's he hiding? How many more are there? Danny received, and ignored, several cease-and-desist letters. It was only when a week had passed without response that I had no choice but to file charges to make him stop his activities. Incidentally, Danny's damages continue to accrue each day that he refuses to tell me who received his e-mail impersonation.

    Finally, pranks?which are by definition intentional inflictions of emotional distress?are also by definition illegal. Hellman and Henderson are criminals, not heroes. Henderson in particular, in light of his presidential death threat, should be behind bars. Hellman and his tiny band of not-so-merry pranksters need to get lives, move out of their old rooms at their parents' houses, join the adult world and get busy working so they can start paying their legal bills.

    Ted Rall, Manhattan

    John Strausbaugh replies: Bite me. Unless I miss my guess, I'm being asked to retract or correct my definition of parody. Rall's welcome to his interpretation, and I'll stick with mine. At the same time, he may want to exercise a little more care in his use of words like "lie" and "criminals" in relation to that nasty little term "libel." I thank Rall for reminding me that Hellman did in fact offer a settlement, and an apology, neither of which proved sufficient to remove Rall's knee from his throat. Sam Henderson replies: Okay, you got me. I once played a stupid prank on a classmate to make it look like he sent a threat to the President, and I got busted by the Secret Service. Had they considered the prank worthy of prosecution, I would have served my sentence by now anyway. That was nine years ago and I've been prank-free ever since. Sorry I wasn't a model college student like you.

    I had respect for you even after the Voice article, but your suit against Hellman and the exaggerated claims therein reversed my opinion completely. If Danny has libeled you to your employers and potentially jeopardized your career as you claim, what is it you call your letter to this paper? I'm amused you think I'm a lackey of Hellman's, but the truth is my thoughts and actions are entirely my own; I haven't even spoken to His Dirtiness in two weeks.

    Anybody who wants to can check the "Free Dirty Danny" thread under "Announcements" at and see my post of 09-28-99, 10:47 AM PT. Your address and number were deleted an hour after I put them up, and they were posted while, according to your own accounts, you were in Asia for three weeks. A great majority of members of this message board couldn't care less about you or Hellman, so the odds of one of them happening to log on within that hour and having any desire to take the time to call you are slim. And if anyone really has threatened you over the phone, they could have found the number in the same place they can find mine. It's called a phone book.

    I just turned 30 last week. When I'm 35 I plan to quit my job at the gas station and move away from my parents.

    Chez Savimbi Nobody asked me, but: Those "escort service" ads in the back of your tabloid section are sexier than anything in Playboy.

    I used to think that Ben Katchor was a national treasure, and was delighted when he returned to NYPress. Now I think he's?gulp!?a little boring.

    Speaking of boring, I hope that Lionel Tiger's books aren't as dull as his columns. He seems, in interviews, like a nice guy, and I suspect there must be some real wisdom buried in those essays of his...if only I could get through them.

    I almost never pass up reading a movie review, even of films I have no interest in, but Armond White is such a piss-poor writer that I generally skip his pieces. If you can't fire him, couldn't you at least copy-edit him?

    Godfrey Cheshire has gravitas and brains, but he spends too much time pompously analyzing his own conflicted reactions to films?a kind of esthetic navel-gazing.

    It's always a relief when Matt Zoller Seitz gets assigned the week's best film.

    What a telling contrast, a while ago, between your "Best of" issue and the Village Voice's?the one fresh and sassy, the other humorless, earnest and p.c. ("Best African Restaurants"? Give me break.)

    The essence of NYPress, for me, remains the political commentary: MUGGER, Caldwell, Corn and Cockburn (pretty much in that order).

    I'll always love Cockburn for his jaundiced references, years ago, to the freedom-loving, women-hating guerrillas of Afghanistan. But his recent defenses of George Szamuely, who stole 570 books from the NYU library, are lame and unconvincing. (Librarians themselves have been known to discard books? So what?) Stealing books from a library is as reprehensible as stealing them from my own bookshelves. Sociopaths should be punished.

    So should Danny Hellman, John Strausbaugh notwithstanding. In his latest piece ("Publishing," 10/27), Strausbaugh writes that Rall's defamation lawsuit is over "a Hellman parody of Rall." That seems a bit disingenuous. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Hellman send out hoax e-mail bearing Rall's name?e-mail that some of the recipients took seriously? Not funny. Go get him, Ted!

    Saul Spero, Manhattan

    "You Asshole. Irish Toe Dancing Rules." Regarding the defamatory comments made against the Irish by Joe Rodrigue ("The Mail" 10/20), specifically his contention that the only claims to fame of the Irish are getting drunk and potatoes. What about Irish toe dancing (ever hear of Riverdance)? What about melodic and beautiful Irish folk music, exquisite Celtic weave-work, illuminated manuscripts and other arts; richly imaginative Celtic folk tales, mythology, poetry and literature? I realize that Mr. Rodrigue is probably unaware of all of this since, judging by his name and his comments in past issues concerning the immigration problem in America, Mr. Rodrigue is a "spic." (Oh, I'm sorry, Joe. I hope my use of an ethnic slur has not offended you, but considering your reference to the Irish as "micks," I assume you have a reasonably thick skin and can handle it.) By the way, Joe, what are your people known for, other than beans and cockroaches?

    Rev. Kurt Schmitt, Manhattan

    Slip It In Steven Ovadia has clearly never had a loved one die on him ("Music Reviews," 10/27). He may think he has, but if he sees no worth in a person's life beyond the "good art" they might inspire upon their death, it's likely that he has never loved anyone. And if he thinks "people still sing songs about Marilyn Monroe" out of grief for the loss of anything even resembling a personal relationship, he is, perhaps, delusional. This is all quite apart from the idiocy of his music criticism. You'd think he'd only get one chance?ever?to listen to McCartney's version of "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man," not realizing what it was until it was "practically over." Play it again, Steve. Or better still, find a copy of Buddy Holly's version of the same song, before you go charging McCartney with "slipping in" "Tequila."

    Will Dial, Highland Falls, NY

    Peter Piker Doughty NYPress, always ready for battle with the ignorant and the arrogant! Sometimes, though, like any crusader, you reveal your own weakness when you wield your rhetorical swift sword. John Strausbaugh, one of your most intelligent writers, must be awfully insecure to goad Washington Post writer Peter Carlson for slighting NYPress in his piece about Paul Lukas ("Publishing," 10/20). I've been reading NYPress since 1989, and I see no errors in the passages by Carlson that Strausbaugh quotes. To call NYPress "tiny" may betray a touch of condescension (ask Cynthia Cotts if that isn't a blade Strausbaugh cuts with), but it's hardly wrong in describing the paper when Lukas was a columnist. I don't know circulation figures?I'm sure Strausbaugh can enlighten us, what with auditing and all?but the buzz factor sure didn't follow until Russ Smith started cozying up with establishment organs like The Wall Street Journal in the last few years. Carlson never says that Lukas was fired from NYPress, just that he has been fired from some publications. That's not an inaccurate way to describe his disappearance from New York magazine, surely, though Lukas prefers "let go."

    But most ridiculous is Strausbaugh's contention that, because NYPress readers know the handy descriptor for Beer Frame (indeed he seems to think that we're all regular readers, just because he is), Carlson should assume that his Washington Post readers do too?or if they don't know "zine," they can't possibly be interested in one. (The Post is definitely a "huge" paper, after all?check out its audited figures, John.) Did Strausbaugh notice that Carlson is drawing attention to a publication even "tinier" than NYPress, and it wasn't exactly gracious to Carlson or Lukas to turn the piece into an insult? I guess not, because that would make Strausbaugh as arrogant as the writer he decries. But hey, it must be tough to fill up all those columns every week. Picking an e-mail fight is as good a way as any.

    Alexander Cockburn never has trouble filling his columns, so I'm puzzled by his two-weeks-running defense of George Szamuely ("Wild Justice," 10/13 & 10/20). It's refreshing to see Cockburn being loyal to a colleague, but I have trouble believing he's sincere. Let me get this straight: Cockburn shares Szamuely's assumption that he's a more enlightened custodian of a large fraction of NYU's book collection (does the 570 count still stand?) than the cruel librarians of the benighted university? Maybe NYU could have sent a stream of thesis-writing poli-sci students to knock on Szamuely's door instead of the police. If Cockburn thinks so, okay, but Szamuely seems more like a thug holding books for ransom than an intellectual knight. (His affinity for Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia is suddenly more explicable.) I wonder how Cockburn would feel if, in the moment of inspiration, his copy of The Phenomenology of Spirit wasn't "instantly to hand" because George Szamuely borrowed it?half a decade ago.

    David Irwin, Queens

    Gold Star for L'il MUGster MUGGER: I just finished reading your 10/27 commentary on the "press" reaction to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty vote and, as usual, I'm very impressed. There are few editorialists who maintain the consistent extrapolation and reasoning by logical progression that you do. Your articles always leave me feeling as though I'm getting the story behind the story. Tom Moores, North Augusta, SC

    Porcine Distemper Re: MUGGER's "Clinton Plays Trashball Politics" (10/20). Admittedly, I did not vote for Clinton, and despise him as a person. That said, what I see happening with him regarding his mood swings and temper tantrums is truly frightening. Here we have the most powerful man on Earth dropping bombs here and there, whenever it is to his benefit to divert attention from himself. Now we are witnessing worsening flights of anger and what certainly appears to be irrational behavior (playing golf in the rain, alone and in the dark). Are we in more trouble than we realize? Joe M. Brown, Canandaigua, NY

    Fascist Twinkie Taki's endless tirades and broadsides against Bill Clinton might have a bit more credibility if he could find it within himself to end his love affair with hyperbole. Clinton the most "disgustingly partisan president" ever? ("Taki's Top Drawer," 10/27). The same Clinton who spent his first six years in office ignoring (and frequently betraying) his own party? Who frequently co-opted Republican issues for his use? Say what you will about Clinton, and there is plenty to be said, it has only been in the post-impeachment era that he has begun adopting stances that can be considered "partisan." Prior to impeachment, his actions primarily were designed to promote or benefit himself rather than his party.

    It's possible that Clinton will indeed become the partisan animal Taki accuses him of having always been, particularly if he feels that is the only way to fight against his perceived irrelevance, but I doubt it. His constant compromising has painted him into too many political corners.

    Craig Butler, Manhattan