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March 19, 2010

It's getting ugly out there: Gerald Posner vs. Miami New Times

D3ca810ae7a0b0ce96134210_LBeleaguered author Gerald Posner was at the Miami  Beach Botanical Gardens last night on the premise that he'd speak about his book-in-question, Miami Babylon. The Miami New Times, of course, was there to capture what could have been just an awkward book reading. Instead, it turned uglier than a drag queen detoxing from makeup and stimulants. At least according to the New Times, it did. Apparently there was an altercation between Posner and Lera Gavin, the fiancee of Frank Owen, author of Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture, from which Owen alleges Posner plagiarized. We also heard from Owen earlier this week via email in which he sent us his account of word thievery as seen on the New Times blog.

After Posner caught wind of the blog this morning, he fired back at the free weekly with a letter (forwarded to us afterwards) to Tim Elfrink, the author of the blog's post, and to the newspaper's editor, Chuck Strouse, calling them out for posting without giving him a chance to comment first. In the letter, Posner says he received a note for comment three minutes after New Times posted the blog. He also says he wrote back saying he never saw comments made on Owen's personal Facebook page because, well, Owen defriended him.

Here they are: The real sparks came after the reading when Lera asked Posner "Are we still going out for a drink to discuss this?" Posner exploded. His plastic face turned red: "Yeah, I'm a thieving cocksucker." "Yes, you are a thieving cocksucker," Lera replied. And then an elderly lady came running towards them: "This is a botanical garden. It's a peaceful place. Can you please take it some place else?"

According to Posner, a lawyer who once worked at New York's Cravath, Swaine and Moore, the New Times account of the incidents in the garden is false, fictional and defamatory. He also says that Owen wasn't present during the altercation and cites Elfrink's friendship with Owen as affecting the quality of his reporting.

In Posner's account in a second letter to Strouse, he said he was disapponted by the way Owen had gone about all of this and told his fiancee he has apologized twice to which she replied, "It's not enough because you haven't admitted it's intentional plagiarism." Posner said it wasn't and the debate went on. "None of us, including Lera, ever raised our voices. But my impression was that somehow Frank, who strangely didn't come up to me to talk, was somehow enjoying all the publicity he's engendered. . . This isn't a game. It's not a matter of "gotcha" or fireworks" or vulgar mud slinging. When I called you on that remark last night, after you introduced yourself to me, you said, 'Oh well, you know Frank.' Actually, I don't, and the more I learn, I'm glad I don't."

While some are crying foul, others are introducing the pot to the kettle, and, somewhere out there, an old peacenick lady may still be traumatized, the jury is on spring break on all accusations. In the meantime, we asked both sides, really, what's going on here, to which Posner replied:

"A reporter accepted a second hand account of what he called 'real trouble' without getting comments from anybody who was actually there . . . And the reporter's friendship with Owen, my accuser, raises ethical questions of whether he is unbiased in his reporting. That is because the same reporter had a few days earlier posted on Owen's Facebook page that "I expect an invite for the fireworks," referring to my talk before the Miami Beach Historical Association. It raises questions about whether the reporter hoped for 'real trouble' to write about in the New Times, and was so anxious to publish what turns out to be a false account, that he cut corners."

As for Strouse, he posted Posner's letter online in its entirety and sent us an email statement saying "Tim Elfrink's reporting on the Posner situation, which was followed by the New York Times, Gawker, and the Miami Herald, has been professional and ethical. On the other hand, after resigning in disgrace from the Daily Beast amid plagiarism charges, Mr. Posner acknowledged that "already published sources [got] through to a number of my final [works]."

Elfrink also sent us an email saying: "If a Facebook 'friendship' is the mark of being too close to a source these days, we're all in big trouble. I'd never met Frank Owen before Thursday night. I Facebook friended him earlier this week after learning that he felt Posner had plagiarized him. It was the easiest way to contact him for his phone number. . . I'm not sure why posting Gerald's account counts as 'first-hand information about what happened, while posting Lera's account is 'second-hand' just because she posted it on Frank Owen's Facebook wall first . . .Interesting that Gerald is blowing up over all these minor complaints at the same time he's admitting his second major act of plagiarism in just over a month. Why, do you suppose, is he trying to shift the conversation?"

Gavin's own account of the incident is posted on her Facebook page. In it she writes, "Gerald Posner wouldn't know the truth if it bit him in the ass," and goes on to recreate the scenario as she saw it, refuting a few things in the process, saying, "The idea that Gerald made me uncomfortable is ludicrous. If he had come any closer, I would've flipped him on his Ken-doll ass, Staten Island style. As for the notion that either Tim or Frank has behaved unprofessionally, that's rich coming from an admitted serial plagiarist like Gerald Posner."

After our post went up, we also heard from Owen, who emailed us a statement saying "First, Tim Elfrink is not a friend. This is a flat-out lie from Posner. The first time I talked to Tim was Monday when I sent him the same email I later sent you. The first time I met him in person was last night. Secondly, calling Tim 'unprofessional' is ludicrous, especially coming from an admitted serial plagiarist like Posner [ed note: similarities between the affianced is not plaigiarism--LA]. Thirdly, saying that I'm doing this solely for publicity is equally ludicrous--especially coming from a media whore like Posner. I offered to settle the matter earlier in the week . . . if he gave a full and frank apology for stealing multiple passages from my book, a fact Posner doesn't deny. Instead, he resorted to lawyerly evasion, first claiming that a Miami Beach policeman he interviewed must have read 'Clubland' and repeated passages from the book to Posner, which is how chunks of my book ended up in his book. Yeah, right. Then he tried to blame his wife Trisha and his two assistants who helped him on the book. Real classy. Blame the help. Now he's blaming a new system of 'trailing footnotes' he instigated for Miami Babylon. Now he says he copied and pasted bits of my book and just forget where they came from. Eight examples of plagiarism--half of them full paragraphs, plus five stolen quotes. This is bullshit beyond belief. He's delusional if he thinks anybody buys this nonsense."

Our apologies for this long post. As the wise prophet Judge Judy once said, "If you want the facts, you go to a therapist. If you want the law, you come to court."