Friday, March 24, 2006

Racism and trademark protection

Now that everyone has dug their trenches over the Red America fiasco, the Washington Post is taking great pains to point out that it is under different management than Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive (WPNI), the company that runs the website and that the Post would not hire someone like Ben Domenech. However, that distinction is fine enough to be lost not only on almost all readers, but also on trademark law. A trademark is fundamentally based on its owner policing the quality of the goods and services provided in association with the trademark. Whether or not the print paper and the website are under different management, someone up there, presumably The Washington Post Company, owns the "Washington Post" trademark, and they'd better take a studied interest, in the extremely near future, about whether they want that trademark to be associated in the minds of its current and potential consumers with someone who has been shown to have plagiarized, called Coretta Scott King a "communist", and expressed some retch-inducing racist rhetoric. (He tried to pass it off as "satire" or something, as emptily as Ann Coulter tries to claim "satire" as an all-purpose moral escape hatch for calls to kill liberals and other hate speech. Read and decide for yourself.)

Of course, Brad DeLong has made the all-too-plausible hypothesis that Red America is the Post's secret plan to discredit the extreme right. What better way, after all, than to pick out a Heckuvajob Brownie of PR - an unqualified hack who was appointed in the Bush administration clearly for no reason other than his connections, which happen to include Jack Abramoff, and whose writing education was apparently little more than a steady diet of Ann Coulter - and present him as the prototypical spokesman for Bush's red-state core constituency?

A brilliant plan, except that it is taking the Washington Post name down with it. Which is why I recently sent the following email - to the parent company, since WPNI and the print paper have been ducking for cover:

To: The Washington Post Company < >
Cc: Jim Brady < >, Deborah Howell < >


Regarding the uproar over the "Red America" blog on WPNI's website, The Washington Post newspaper has apparently been deflecting all complaints to WPNI, saying they have no managerial oversight of WPNI. However, the distinction between the two outlets will not be made by most of the market, particularly since both use the "Washington Post" trademark.

As a concerned customer, I sincerely hope that you at the parent company, who do have managerial control over both the paper and the website, are considering prompt action to protect the market's association of the "Washington Post" trademark with journalistic integrity, and to protect the value of that association to the share price of The Washington Post Company, by putting an end to a rapidly spreading market association with a blogger who has apparently been revealed to have plagiarized, called Coretta Scott King a "communist", and made truly despicable comments about African Americans that can only be descibed as promoting racial hatred.

Yours truly,

The information contained in this transmission does not
constitute legal advice. If you require legal assistance,
promptly seek the counsel of an attorney admitted to
practice in your jurisdiction. The information contained
in this transmission does not constitute financial advice.

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