I was once almost sued because of something I wrote. The crappy part is I didn’t learn about it until the case was dropped which means I can’t claim I was a persecuted writer.
Several hundred years ago when I was at Kansas State, for reasons I don’t remember (money) I applied to be a columnist for the Kansas State Collegian and, surprisingly, was accepted.
By luck I landed the prime spot on Monday. This allowed me to pay attention to events during the week and then write about it on Friday for publication on Monday.
Being a columnist was kind of odd. We were simultaneously part of and outside the news staff. We were more like specialists who dragged ourselves in once a week to write on whatever topic struck our fancy and then fled before the police could arrive. (Something like that.)
Being a columnist also had two odd effects on my life. First, people I didn’t know would say “Hey, Dwayne” and start talking to me as if they knew me (as my mental Rolodex flipped cards and tried to match a name to the face). People also felt it was okay to casually snipe at one of my columns if they didn’t like the cut of my political jib.
The other odd effect was the lawsuit. Sort of. Every now and then I couldn’t come up with a single coherent topic and I would instead resort to random aphorisms, observations and questions. For example, I’d write something like “Do athletes actually graduate from the University of Oklahoma or are they just transferred to maximum security?” and then move on to a new topic.
In once such column I went after an easy target, the Department of Leisure Studies. I wrote something like “What is Leisure Studies? What do Leisure Studies’ majors study? Do they get more credit for going to class or for staying home?” It was an obvious joke and I probably could have thought of something better, but I wrote it and forgot about it.
A few months later I was in the newsroom writing a column when all of a sudden the editor casually said something along the lines of “I forgot to tell you Leisure Studies was going to sue you.” I paused for a minute and then I and the devils over my shoulders all went “WHAT?” at the same time. She explained that someone in the department had felt I’d defamed the program and they were going to sue me for slander, libel or being a jerk.
She also said the newspaper legal people explained how the lawsuit was a bad idea and Leisure Studies dropped it.
I was young enough that I thought a law suit would have given me a certain amount of credibility. Almost getting sued wasn’t as impressive, especially as I didn’t know it until it was too late to be impressed.
I had the last laugh though. Leisure Studies would eventually change its name to the Department of Kinesiology, which is much more intimidating. I’ve always taken credit for forcing that change.