50 thoughts on “Why?

    • I’m a teacher. Suppose I was found to have said that I think boys are a bunch of dummies. Would my free speech rights be compromised if I was fired for demonstrating an inability to do my job?

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      • , how would saying that “boys are a bunch of dummies” preclude you from doing your job? Could you prove that you taught just as well? When one gets a teaching credential does one give up the right to have opinion?

        If you were fired for having the wrong opinion, then it is paramount that the one firing you demonstrate that your opinion is detrimental to your job. Unpopular opinions are why we have the first amendment. If it only protected speech that everyone loved, it would be worthless.

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        • If I genuinely held the conscious belief that boys are dummies, it would absolutely compromise my ability to do my job. A study was done that showed that teachers perceptions of students influenced how they interacted with those students on a subconscious level. Students then internalized these perceptions and essentially “fulfilled the prophecy”. And that was all happening on a subconscious level! Now if you have a teacher that consciously believes that boys are dummies… or that girls suck at math or that black kids are more athletic or that Asians are great at programming… all of that influences how they teach and in negative ways.

          Now, I wouldn’t say we should actively go on fact finding missions and try to understand every teacher’s belief on everything ever. But if they person voluntarily offers that information up, yea, we should consider it when deciding if they are fit to do the job.

          I’m not trying to root out problematic or unpopular opinions. If a teacher was opposed to SSM — even going so far as to actively engage in campaigning against it — I don’t think that should impact his job status unless or until it impacts his interactions with students, which it need not necessarily. Or if a teacher was in favor of the death penalty or pro choice or libertarian or a Scientologist or anything else that might find them at ideological odds with folks… none of that matters. Thinking boys are dumb DOES matter when we’re talking about a teacher. Hating black folks DOES matter when we’re talking about a cop.

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          • I agree with you on pretty much all of that, but my point and I think Notme’s also, is that we do have very strong free speech protections in this country and we should be massively careful when stepping on them. No matter how good the reason, and possibly especially when it is a good reason.

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    • You don’t really know how free speech works, do you?

      I mean admittedly, cops and other public servants have a bit of a trickier issue than, say, the average Joe at a Fortune 500 company, but “free speech” is protection against the government.

      It’s not protection against consequences. It does not protect you from being fired — this is only an issue when the government is also your employer, but even then you don’t have a ‘free speech’ right that is some shield against being sent packing.

      Maybe you were making some point, but honestly all I got were the echoes of a thousand idiots screaming “free speech” when some online forum or blog bans them for being idiots.

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      • ,
        Now that I think about it some more (still not as a lawyer though), I think Morat20 might be right. It’s one thing for students to say bad things outside of school since their attendance is mandatory. An employer probably can fire someone for outside-of-work-using-someone-else’s-computer speech. It is a requirement that doesn’t impinge on a protected class. (OK, I kind of made up the wording there, but it sounds like something a lawyer might say.)

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        • For what it’s worth, my concerns about enforceability are more about who else would be affected by the state’s efforts to discover the true identity of anonymous posters/authors.

          I have almost no problem with saying that police have special privileges to use coercion and violence and that therefore in order to keep that privilege (and keep their job) it is appropriate to restrict what they can say off the job, or punish them for saying certain things off the job.

          I say “almost no problem” and not “no problem” because I’d want the restriction to be narrowly tailored to police officers (and some other agents allowed to use coercion or make coercion-like decisions) and I’d want it to be narrowly tailored to certain kinds of speech. I.e., no racist speech, but the off-duty cops can still be allowed to support political candidates or write letters to editors, etc. My “some other agents allowed to use coercion or make coercion-like decisions” is perhaps a too-broad brush stroke, and I’m not sure where to draw the line. I suppose a child-welfare social worker who makes racist comments on a blog should be punished, but perhaps not a DMV worker who does the same, as long as it can’t be shown to affect that person’s work.

          I should stress I’m talking about off-the-job restrictions. On the job, I take it as a given that the state as employer has a pretty wide range of what kind of speech it can restrict.

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  1. Re: the cop stuff:

    “It’s very disturbing stuff. Outrageous stuff,” said Stephen Davis, the chief spokesman for the NYPD. “We see it. It’s a problem.”

    Mr. Davis is one dude who is, without doubt, EARNING his money.

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  2. Polstein, who did not respond to requests for an interview, has said previously that anyone wishing to post on the blog has to provide proof that they are a current or former member of the NYPD. But whether they are, and how many have signed up, are among the many mysteries surrounding Thee Rant. The blog says it garners 120,000 page views daily.

    Leonard Levitt, a respected former Newsday reporter who runs the website NYPD Confidential, said he has stopped assigning much significance to Thee Rant.

    “To be honest, I don’t read it,” Levitt said. “I’d say these guys represent the worst elements of the department. I don’t think they speak for the average cop. I have a feeling it’s four or five guys doing most of the yowling.”

    From a stickied post on Thee Rant entitled “HOW TO BECOME A MEMBER OF Thee RANT”:

    If you were not a member of the old RANT you will have to verify that you are on the job (Law Enforcement, Fire Dept, Military) by sending me a copy of your ID Card

    So according to their current guidelines, they need not only be current/ex-cops, they can also be (presumably current or ex-) firefighters and military.

    Beyond that, those membership instructions indicate that some members were grandfathered in from an older Rant setup, which may have had even less-stringent membership requirements and/or validation than exists currently (and of course, we don’t know how stringent that truly is anyway).

    Are they all cops posting this stuff?

    Even if they are, are they current cops, or old ex-cops?

    Should we trust Leonard Levitt when he says, “it’s just a few cranks posting this crap”?

    And moreover, as much as it pains me to say this, I have to ask essentially the same question does – what exactly do you expect anyone do about it, even if they ARE cops doing the posting?

    I mean, to answer the OP’s question literally, the ESPN reporter did what he did under his own name. The jackasses posting this crap are protected by anonymity. Thus, the repercussions are different.

    I have no intention of requesting that police start digging into anonymous posts on the internet, that may or may not even be being made by police. Particularly since one day one of those anonymous posters may use that anonymity to report malfeasance by police (hey, a guy can dream).

    “Some anonymous people who may or may not be cops posted some racist crap on the internet” is pretty small potatoes compared to what definite current cops definitely keep doing IRL. Often on video.

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    • ” the ESPN reporter did what he did under his own name”

      It was a she, and it was a surveillance video.

      (Advanced Towing does deserve every bit of shade thrown at it).

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        • Well, with *that* attempt at neutralizing the cop’s behavior blown up, you gonna try for another? You still got the “not a real cop” thing to go with….

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          • A.) Nothing is blown up, since an ESPN reporter berating a tow company has nothing, at all, to do with anonymous racist statements made by (possible) cops online.

            B.) Despite my not reading the first link originally, my general point stands; to answer the OP’s question, she experienced repercussions because she did what she did under her own name (matter of fact, she made it a point to throw her name around, which is part of what bit her in the ass).

            C.) Good work, accusing me of “attempting to neutralize” the bad behavior of “cops” that we clearly have no idea actually are. You’ve managed to sneak in both an unjustified dig at me, while blithely assuming something to be true and consequential that Leonard Levitt, a guy who presumably would know better than any of us here, doesn’t seem to. Smooth.

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              • I just don’t understand the question the OP is asking, I guess.

                1.) If you want me to say that cops (or anyone) shouldn’t post racist crap online (or more importantly, shouldn’t be racists), I will say that now.

                2.) If you want me to say that any cop dumb enough to post racist crap online and get caught should be fired, not just because it’s inherently bad to have racist cops (or cops saying racist things), but also because it destroys public trust in the PD in general, I will say that now.

                3.) If you want me to say that cops should be told, in no uncertain terms, that they shouldn’t post racist crap online, even anonymously, I will say that now.

                4.) If you want me to say that the cops should have the power to root around in anonymous internet comments to see if #3 is being violated, I will say “F*************************ck nooooooooooooooooo, holmes!!!” Because the concepts of “internet anonymity” and “allow searches only for probable cause, for reasons of crime, and with due process” serve very important purposes, for you and for me and even for the Seemingly-Theoretical-In-2015 Good Cop.

                5.) If you want me to be outraged that some anonymous people who might or might not be cops posted some racist crap online, my outrage meter isn’t calibrated quite that low. I read YouTube comments sometimes; if it was, I’d be dead already.

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                • I’m with you on everything except point #4. I do not want the police, well, policing blogs. But my boss — I believe — can legally root around on the internet and presumably find me here and, if she didn’t like what I had to say, fire me.

                  So why not allow a PD equivalent of HR — with no actual police power — to do the same? If they can Google Officer Dingus and find his racist crap, do we want them not to do that? And, hell, given that the presence of such explicit racism likely put (brown) people’s lives at risk, maybe I’d give them *some* tools more powerful than Google. No criminal action. Just firing.

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                  • Well, if I am reading the article correctly, they DO root around on the internet , just like any employer can and does (cops who have pulled similar crap on Facebook have gotten fired).

                    But they can’t do #4, just like your employer “can’t” find you here – not unless you post enough identifying details here to make it obvious who you are IRL, or admit to using the nom de internet “Kazzy, of Ordinary Times fame” – because police are (rightly) not allowed to start digging into this stuff, not without evidence of a crime and clearing some bars.

                    And I have no intention of giving them the tools to do so in the hope that they would ONLY use those tools to better police themselves, as I think we all know that is highly unlikely.

                    Which is all IMO as it should be, and why I am confused as to the OP’s thrust.

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                    • The thrust is that it’s shitty that ESPN can and did discipline a reporter for behaving badly in a way immaterial to her job but PDs can’t (in this case)/won’t (in so many others) discipline cops for behaving badly in ways directly related to their jobs. Maybe there are good reasons for some of that (perhaps here as you point out but how many bad acts by cops go unpunished for no good reason?) but it’s still shitty.

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                      • Kazzy: The thrust is that it’s shitty that ESPN can and did discipline a reporter for behaving badly in a way immaterial to her job but PDs can’t (in this case)/won’t (in so many others) discipline cops for behaving badly in ways directly related to their jobs.

                        I pretty much with here, including his point #4.

                        For the “won’t” part of your quotation, I’ll point out that per the second link, the NYPD apparently does discipline cops when they say horrible things non-anonymously, on Facebook, for example. Not that there might be other instances of the NYPD tolerating or leaving unpunished such behavior. Accordingly, I disagree with below when he says it’s police unions. This issue hasn’t even risen to a level where the unions are doing whatever it is they do to protect their charges. Not that I’m a fan of police unions.

                        As for the “can’t” part of your quotation, at first blush, I’m inclined to say it is “sh—y,” especially because it’s evidence that some people–be they cops or not–are saying such racist stuff. But is it really “sh—y” that the government must show probable cause and overcome procedural hurdles before investigating the identities of anonymous speakers?

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                        • How many cops have gone unpunished for killing unarmed folks this year?

                          I agree with you and that addressing this situation isn’t so easy.

                          It is just increasing frustrating that cops seem increasingly immune from the consequences of their bad behavior. WE GIVE THESE FUCKERS GUNS AND ARE UNABLE OR UNWILLING TO HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE! That is terrifying. And I say this as a white dude who has much less to fear from them than many other folks. I can only imagine how this shit must make them feel.

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                          • The answer to your question is “too many.” “One” would be too many, but unfortunately, the number is greater than one. So no argument from me.

                            Still, I don’t think this particular example is an instance of cops being “increasingly immune from the consequences of their bad behavior.” When it comes to anonymous communication, they’re enjoying the immunity they’ve always had.

                            I wouldn’t, by the way, oppose a policy of forbidding cops, as long as they remain cops, to say racist things anonymously online. And if an anonymous cop is doxxed somehow by a private party, then they should be disciplined.

                            But I’m still not sure how to enforce that prohibition without empowering the state to intrude into speech sites. (And I realize, you’re not claiming it’s easy. I’m just expanding on my thoughts here, not criticizing your position or your completely understandable frustration with the situation.):

                            Let’s say I claimed to be a cop and wrote some horribly racist things here. Ought my local police department or the FBI then have the authority to subpoena Tod to turn over the OT’s records on commenters (emails, IP addresses)? That may be a slippery slope argument, but it’s the type of thing I’d fear and would object to.

                            My comments are sounding more confrontation and cop-apologetic than I’d like. To paraphrase something Glyph (I think) said in another thread a while back, I feel awkward playing devil’s advocate for actual devils.

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                            • @glyph

                              Not to get all meta, but this is where I start to wonder about privilege. Right now, we’re confronted with two evils: racist cops and violating privacy/anonymity. Most folks here are coming down on the side of the latter being the greater evil, the one we dare not perpetrate.

                              Also, most (all?) folks here (at least in this little part of the conversation) are white dudes. So isn’t it easy for us to take that stance? I mean, systemic racism in police departments KILLS PEOPLE! And not just the folks who we hear about getting shot. Systemic racism in our criminal justice system creates an environment wherein black folks — black young men in particular — are arrested disproportionately, grow up in poverty disproportionately, and much, much more. I repeat: system racism KILLS PEOPLE. And we might be able to make that a little bit better by figuring out who these fuckers are, determining if they are real cops and, if so, stripping them of their badges and guns. What is the most harm that can come from that? We hassle some “innocent”, non-cops making racist statements? A few people uninvolved get caught in the web and have to deal with some inconveniences? We damage an abstract notion of privacy and anonymity? Do we really think all of that is worse than PEOPLE DYING?

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                              • I won’t deny that my white privilege really does inform my readiness to be concerned about privacy/anonymity. If I were differently situated, it’s quite possible I would see the other side of the argument with more urgency.

                                I suppose I could argue that trying to track down who made these comments won’t do much to prevent killings Maybe I’d even be right. But I admit that such is an argument of convenience.

                                So if I’m compelled to concede the point, then I end up saying it “worth it” to protect privacy/anonymity at the expense of some people being killed. That’s a pretty awful concession to make. I feel icky saying it, even as an “if…then” hypothetical. And perhaps because I don’t have the courage of my convictions or am unwilling to acknowledge the full logical conclusions of what I’m saying, I won’t say it. I’ll avoid answering your main question. And give two other responses.

                                The first is the typical civil libertarian response that you’re probably familiar with. The same limits that prevent the state from investigating anonymous commenters are part of the same limits that supposedly prevent the state from violating the due process of suspected criminals. Eroding that protection makes further violations more likely, or at least gives yet another tool to those very police officers who would intrude upon rights, and the victims of such violations will more likely be those without privilege.

                                It doesn’t escape my notice that my privilege operates even here. I am marginally more likely to be the “victim” (if that’s even the right word) of police efforts to figure out my anonymity online than I am likely to be a victim of the worse brutality you’re referring to. Not that I claim to be a cop or purposefully engage in racist rhetoric, but I’m online a lot and something that affects my anonymity is on balance likely to affect me more directly. But I do hold that position sincerely, despite my more convenient motivations.

                                My second response is to sketch out what I think might be a good compromise, or explore in what situations I think a police department or some other part of the state might very well legitimately investigate racist statements by anonymous “cops.” I guess the first step is there has to be some representation that the person making those statements is a cop. I don’t think a site that purports to have authors from “cops or former cops” by itself so qualifies. But if an actual author somehow makes the claim, then that will be the first step.

                                The second step will be for the state to meet some burden to show that the language imply something that could lead to violence or unfair treatment. The state has to posit a more or less direct likelihood that the language can be part of an attitude that could affect a cop’s performance.

                                I envision those two steps to be something like what I, as a layperson, understand to be “probable cause.” The state has to have a reason and that reason needs to be ratified by a judge. At which point, the state can subpoena the records from the site. But the subpoena would need to be narrow. The state can look into only the records (email address, IP address, other identifying information) of the person who made the offending comment.

                                I don’t think this is really different from what I or Glyph have said above. We–or at least I–are not denying the state has a legitimate interest in rooting out racist cops and if I read Glyph correctly, he might be amenable to probable cause for searches.

                                Edited to add: I’m willing to rethink this: “I don’t think a site that purports to have authors from ‘cops or former cops’ by itself so qualifies. But if an actual author somehow makes the claim, then that will be the first step.” I suppose if the site is known as a repository of such speech, then maybe that can serve as one prong for subpoena’ing the records of the site. Maybe. I’m undecided.

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                              • Kazzy,

                                Yes, it’s worse. Because that same protection of anonymity that can allow one cop to post racist crap, can also embolden a second cop to report IRL malfeasance by the first cop.

                                And you keep making the assumption that the cops would only go fishing around in the anonymous comments of (suspected) other cops, instead of in whichever comments they want – like, say, in comments critical of police, many of which will be made by the very civilians of color you are trying to protect here.

                                If you remove the presumption and protection of anonymity, you empower both the righteous, and the evil. And the evil are just so much more DEDICATED, in my experience.

                                This would be an incredibly terrible precedent to set, IMO. So, so not worth it. I am 100% against giving police any more powers that will, inevitably, be used against civilians sooner or later; no matter what good we are trying to accomplish in the interim.

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                                  • @gabriel-conroy

                                    Thanks for your thoughtful responses. I should have been more transparent in saying I’m not sure if my last comment is fully reflective of how I feel but rather one half of the argument in my head on the matter being fully fleshed out. I almost wrote something to the effect of, “Privacy/anonymity are the rallying cries of the empowered,” before realizing how ridiculous that was and how many marginalized groups/individuals have relied on privacy and anonymity to push back against the system. So, yes, you are right that adding to the PD’s toolbox carries real threats beyond what I’ve outlined.

                                    As Gabriel begins to sketch out, I do think there is a way to structure such investigations that wouldn’t open a Pandora’s Box.

                                    However, it seems worth noting that cops/the state need not actually be formally empowered with a tool in order to wield it. So, if we assume that cops can and do violate privacy and anonymity already, I’d rather see the process by which they do so formalized and have light shed upon it so that A) it can be leveraged to combat oppression rather than further it and B) it can be properly watched over.

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                                    • One thing that I’ve been toying with that I can’t decide if it’s a possible good idea, or a possible worst-ever one, is making signing up to be police, more like signing up to be in the military.

                                      NO! Yeah, I know it sounds crazy. Wait, hear me out.

                                      I know that a lot of the problems we have seen with police is that they seem to think they are soldiers, but without any of the discipline and rules and responsibility and assumed danger to themselves that that implies.

                                      And, it seems like we periodically discuss some way to reign them in, only to find that the reigns can’t be constitutionally placed on a private US citizen like that.

                                      So – and this is just spitballing, and I am fully aware that it could be an awful idea – what if signing up to be police WAS more like a military gig?

                                      Intensive training; a limited hitch of say 4 years (with good pay, and extended benefits or available college assistance etc. after you get out) and – most importantly – during those years, the American people pretty much OWN YOUR ASS.

                                      And that means if we tell you you have to wear a camera at all times, and submit to periodic searches of your home and car, and any and all communications from you are subject to monitoring (and, “coming home unharmed” is not always the primary goal of every call)…would we see better policing, or worse?

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                • I’d pretty much agree with this as well.

                  Regarding Britt, a high income “personality”, attractive, entitled woman bitching to some “lowly functionary”? That’s ENTERTAINMENT! She should have known. Maybe she’s so used to being on camera she tunes them out. I don’t believe her apology at all as I think it’s PR. But somehow I doubt she’ll suffer any serious setbacks.

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  3. The legal answer is that public/government employees have due process rights and this gives them a bit more protection as employees. The case that specifically involves speech is:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rankin_v._McPherson

    Remember that the Constitution applies to government entities and the 1st Amendment is incorporated to the States and municipalities. So the NYPD firing cops for exercising their free speech rights (no matter how noxious) still falls under censorship and is a direct 1st Amendment violation.

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    • The other day, we discussed the free-speech rights of government employees to not do their jobs — like issuing/registering marriage certificates for same-sex couples; discussion here.

      There’s a line between expressing your personal opinion and conducting your job. The problem here, so it seems to me, is how personal opinion shapes the decisions cops make; and there certainly seems too much crossing of that line, if incarceration, stop-and-frisk, and arrest rates are considered.

      When we ask someone to register a marriage, that’s pretty clear cut; either people have a right to marry or they don’t, and that right should be separate from the officials particular belief. With policing, these things are not nearly as clear; since any particular cop’s views may well shape the way he or she does the job.

      Media people? Corporate spokes persons? The very nature of their employment is lending their name to part of the brand for the corporations they work for. This is actually a difficult burden. When I reported for my local newspaper, I refrained from being politically active in my community for that very reason. A lot of reporters I know don’t live in the communities they cover because of this. Doing a job where you speak publicly, be it reporting, CEO, or PR person, means your public speech reflects on how you do your job; and anybody in those lines of work should be well aware of those risks.

      tldr: your right to public speech may mean what you publicly say may limit your job options.

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  4. I’m not sure what you’re not getting here, Kazzy. Britt McHenry’s rant was not consistent with her employer’s values and the image it wants to project to the general public. The police officers’ rants (assuming they are officers) are totally consistent with their employers’ values and the image they want to project at least at a ground level.

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  5. I don’t understand your issue.

    The cop running the website is no longer a cop.

    The racist “nonsense” was posted anonymously, so what can the NYPD do? I’m sure if they knew who it was, they would fire the posters.

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    • (Psssst, Tod, don’t make my mistake by commenting prior to reading even less than I did.)

      This has nothing to do with unions, and everything to do with the fact that the posts are being made anonymously by (possibly)(current or former)(cops, firefighters, or military members)(which is to say, possibly anybody). Plenty of officers are being punished for posting nastiness on line etc. From the linked article:

      Incidents of officers being investigated or punished for their behavior online, in social media or on personal cell phones, have cropped up in Illinois, Missouri and Florida in recent weeks and months.

      In a St. Louis suburb, for instance, an officer was fired after posting racist remarks about the protests in Ferguson. In San Francisco, eight officers were fired for exchanging racist and homophobic text messages.

      The key here is that you have to be able to identify the poster. That’s not possible on an anonymous blog comment, unless the poster slips up and gives himself away or someone outs him; or unless we want to give the police investigative powers that they should never, ever have for anything less than a serious crime.

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  6. Follow-up to link 1 video may have been edited to make ESPN employee look worse than she did.

    The story is *very* thinly sourced, and from a supermarket checkout magazine, but it does make sense that the full context of one thing she said was “I’m in the news, sweetheart” – thus, she knows about the lawsuits against the towing company, and thus “I will [also] [fishin] sue this place”.

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