press neutrality and lawsuits

Techcrunch (Mr. Arrington) has put up an article suggesting Digg sue Wired (that’s also the headline – “Digg Should Sue Wired”). Because Wired posted some negative reviews of Digg. And because Wired’s parent, Condé Nast, owns a competitor of Digg (reddit). The nub:

Digg can’t treat Wired like any other user that’s engaged in fraud. Wired is the press, and the press has tremendous power. Wired is putting Digg in an impossible situation, and they should be called on it. Reporting news is one thing (although they should note the conflict of interest there as well), but actively creating negative news about a competitor and then using the massive reach of Wired to promote that “news” is way over the line.

Very strog words indeed. I’m quite surprised by this comment, as I understand Mr. Arrington has legal training and in fact practiced as a lawyer for some time. Why surprised? Because, apart from the possibility that the reporter who wrote the second article to which he refers (who basically tried to see if Digg’s system of user rankings could be “gamed”) breached Digg’s terms of use (of course – because rightly so their terms would prohibit such gaming…), its really, really tough for me to see exactly what Digg should sue Wired for? What exactly is the cause of action? Surely he’s not accusing Digg of actually committing fraud, is he? It difficult for me to see how fraud has been committed – what exactly is fraudulent about the articles?

Sure, there is a conflict of interest situation here, the usual cure for which is full disclosure, but hardly the basis for a lawsuit. And if he thinks that Wired suffers from conflict of interest, well, I invite him to check out the ownership of most major media in the US and Canada, and see how many times they are taking a stab at competitors of other companies that their ultimate owners control. If this is as big a deal as Mr. Arrington suggests, the Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent should be considered a field manual to endless lawsuits against not only Condé Nast but also CBS, NBC, ABC, CanWest Global, etc. etc. etc.

But perhaps I took the words too seriously – perhaps he was just using the words “sue” and “fraud” figuratively or to illustrate his point. Or perhaps, given the more litigious nature of the US, and the somewhat kindler, gentler, less punitive (as in damages) environment in Canada, there is actually a basis for Digg suing the heck out of Wired.

Bit of a tempest in a teapot, I think…

And of course in the interest of full disclosure, I am a subscriber to Wired, and also hope someday to see one tiny link from their site to this little blog.