An online war of words has raged for the past couple of days on Twitter, drawing in a number of local personalities into a political fight that’s gotten personal. It’s notable for the acrimony – allegations of lawsuits – and the number of people it’s drawn in. It’s impact? Probably nothing more than hardening the already tense political divisions that exist between Left and Right in this political mean season.
The battle started after Michael Muller, a political operative who has worked for a number of local Republicans running for office, began questioning why Asheville City Councilman Gordon Smith, the Mountain Xpress and others were linking to a blog post by Leslie Boyd. In her post, Boyd blasted state Rep. Tim Moffitt, a Buncombe County Republican, who she described as an arrogant, petulant politician whose politics she vehemently disagreed with.
Boyd, a former Asheville Citizen-Times reporter, is now the head of her own nonprofit, Life-O-Mike. The nonprofit advocates for health care reform and is named after Boyd’s son who died in 2008 and didn’t have access to health insurance.
In a couple of tweets, Muller wrote:
Why do you keep Tweeting out Leslie Boyd’s article, @_tatuaje_ @JakeFrankel @gordondsmith? Isn’t she the discredited local Plagiarizer?
I wouldn’t trust anything someone with the temerity to Plagiarize while working at a respected newspaper had to say. But that’s just me.
Muller was directing his words to tweeter Sean McNeal, Mountain Xpress reporter Jake Frankel and Councilman Smith. McNeal, in a series of tweets, jumped on Muller’s words, noting that Boyd was never accused of plagiarism.
McNeal also linked to an Ashvegas story about Boyd’s departure from the newspaper a couple of years ago. The story reported that Boyd resigned from her job after local bloggers, including Tim Peck and Bobby Coggins, as well as Erika Franzi, the organizer of Tea Party Party protests at the time, questioned Boyd’s reporting. Boyd was actively speaking out about her views regarding health care reform, while reporting on the issue for the newspaper. In at least one case, Boyd was a speaker at an event she covered for the newspaper, a violation of the newspaper’s code of ethics.
McNeal tweeted to Boyd, notifying her of Muller’s words. Boyd accused Muller of slander (then amended her defamation claim to libel, the written form) and demanded an apology. Boyd quickly wrote up a blog post, with a threatening tone at the end:
I still do some freelance writing, so the tweet yesterday is damaging to my reputation, even though I can prove it is false, and I think the person who tweeted it knows that.
It’s called slander and it is actionable. I won’t be intimidated by lies and I won’t let them stand.
Boyd and McNeal openly talked about the possibility of suing Muller, though others noted Boyd could likely be defined as a public figure, which would make a libel claim much more difficult to prove. Boyd is a regular on a local talk radio show, leads her own nonprofit, holds public benefits for the nonprofit and speaks in public about her health care advocacy.
McNeal also fired off his own accusation against Muller:
@michaelfmuller @JakeFrankel @gordondsmith Were you directed by @TimMoffitt to personally attack his opponents? #avlgov #avlnews
Muller hasn’t responded to the question, but Twitter personality, ivanrich, makes the claim that Muller is, in fact, working for Moffitt. Moffitt has been a lightning rod for controversy the past couple of years as a freshman lawmaker. His proposals to change the governing bodies of the Asheville Regional Airport and the city of Asheville’s water authority have been made into law and enraged his Democratic opponents.
Those charges of Muller working for Moffitt also flew at Smith’s blog, Scrutiny Hooligans. Scroll down and read the back-and-forth there. The background here is that Muller and Smith were once friends – I think Muller worked for Smith’s campaign – and they had some sort of falling out.
Other tweeters, including conservative Coggins and Libertarian Peck, have largely dismissed Muller’s words as tweets from a guy well-known for his outrageous remarks online. It should also be noted that Muller’s tweets are protected, meaning they’re not up for open view by anyone. Muller controls who he allows to see his Twitter stream. Everyone else in this war of words allows their tweets to be viewed by anyone.
Muller, for his part, has been largely silent in terms of responding to the cries of libel and apology. In typical fashion, he’s been joking about a public hanging:
I’m nearly running out of rope — dammit! Oh wait! Here’s more. Yay!
What do you serve at a hanging, @petekaliner? Do they have snacks? Beer? Cupcakes maybe? cc: @thunderpig