Monthly Archive for September, 2013

Let’s Talk About Lunsford Media Coverage

Dear Charlottesville Journalists,

Your coverage of Commonwealth Attorney Denise Lunsford’s victimization by a vengeful ex? It’s…it’s not good. I’m being gentle here. As a refresher, prominent Missouri attorney and alcoholic David Cosgrove confessed in a court filing to posting nude photographs of Lunsford online after she broke up with him, and then had the gall to tell the court that he had every right to post those nude photographs, regardless of her wishes. So we have a powerful man publicly sexually humiliating and slut-shaming his victim. The only way that sexual humiliation works is if people know about it. That’s the point.

By writing about this matter in great detail—far more detail than was possibly necessary—you have helped to further Cosgrove’s victimization of Lunsford. When a woman files a restraining order against an abusive ex for the terrible information that he’s broadcasting about her, basically the worst thing that you can do is broadcast that information to way, way more people. And you did exactly that, apparently unquestioningly. You’re precisely the vector that he needed to humiliate her.

Perhaps the gold star for incompetence goes to the unsigned story broadcast by CBS-19. Not content to merely write about the main thrust of the story, y’all went on to write that Cosgrove was also accusing Lunsford of watching “movies” with convicted sexual batterer Chris Dumler, in her home, “with her child present.” This is an accusation made by a man who has engaged in unarguably awful, abusive behavior towards his victim, for the purpose of humiliating her. The most reasonable conclusion to draw is that he’s found precisely the right way to further humiliate her—to accuse her of endangering her child (risking that her child could be taken from her by Child Protective Services) and threaten her employment (for what could be seen as an inappropriate relationship with a criminal). In repeating this claim, CBS-19 let Cosgrove not just humiliate Lunsford sexually, but also make her fear for her child and her career. You folks showed terrible judgment here.

I talked to one reporter today who shared with me a series of late-night, semi-coherent e-mails that she received from Cosgrove last month, e-mails that included some of the photographs in question. (The reporter tells me that only one photograph was nude, and that Lunsford does not appear to know that the photograph is being taken.) The reporter had no idea of who Cosgrove was, but felt that the e-mails “suggest a very drunk, scorned man.” The claims that he made in the e-mails were bizarre, definitely libelous, and I won’t repeat any of them here. The reporter asks Cosgrove why he’s sending these strange e-mails, and he replies: “[t]o afraid f your public official to do do. There is a story or 3 if you do your job and dig.” The reporter replied, simply: “I think you need to put down the bottle of whatever you’re drinking and deal with whatever you’re upset about…” And that was the end of that. Because a responsible reporter knows that there is nothing to be pursued. As attorneys say, any claims that come from this man are fruit of a poisonous tree—nothing that he says can be believed, based on his confessed actions, so he’s best ignored.

Here’s the thing that you need to remember about private sexual matters: they’re private. Sometimes, court filings contain those private details, because they are necessary for the judge to make a decision, and those are inherently public records. But a good journalist knows where to draw the line on how much detail to provide his readers.

Apparently I must remind you that you, too, are public figures. Especially news anchors, who appear in the homes of thousands of local folks every night. I used to live in the building where NBC-29 maintained an apartment for their newest anchors to use, while they got settled. I saw a lot of literal dirty laundry, when I’d encounter these lonely, bleary eyed folks in the building’s laundromat at 1:00 AM. I respected their privacy, as fun as it might have been to post here a photo of their lingerie. Many years ago, I got an e-mail from a young local reporter, distraught after somebody had discovered a long-abandoned webpage where she had written anonymously about her embarrassing sexual fetish. Somebody had connected the dots, figured out who she was, and she needed advice, since she was terrified that she’d lose her job. I assured her I’d do what I could to keep anything about it from becoming public and, as best I know, she got through it OK. Again, private sexual matters are private.

But all isn’t lost! A form of penance is available. You have accidentally tapped into a very real, very serious, widespread problem: revenge porn. None of you bothered to do any actual research before writing your stories, because if you had, you’d have known that right now—this very week, the very day that you broke this story—revenge porn is a very hot topic. See Monday’s New York Times story, or Tuesday’s Slate story. Need the facts? Check out Mary Anne Franks’ FAQ about revenge porn. Copy this sample legislation, paste it into an e-mail, and ask Del. David Toscano, Del. Rob Bell, and Sen. Creigh Deeds if they’ll introduce that bill into January’s General Assembly session. Need some first-person stories? Check out Women Against Revenge Porn, or maybe ask on your Twitter feed whether anybody who has been victimized might want to be interviewed anonymously (anonymously).

There, I’ve almost written the story for you. Do this, say 20 “Hail Mary”s, and then ask Denise Lunsford for forgiveness. You can do it. I know you can.


Cav Daily Wins Alcohol Court Case

The Fourth Circuit Court has upheld The Cavalier Daily’s right to publish advertising for alcohol, the Associated Press reports. An Alcoholic Beverage Commission regulation (§ 3VAC5-20-40 (A)(2)) prohibits licensees from advertising in student newspapers:

Advertisements of alcoholic beverages are not allowed in college student publications unless in reference to a dining establishment, except as provided below. A “college student publication” is defined as any college or university publication that is prepared, edited or published primarily by students at such institution, is sanctioned as a curricular or extra-curricular activity by such institution and which is distributed or intended to be distributed primarily to persons under 21 years of age.

Both the Cav Daily and Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times sued, represented by the ACLU of Virginia, arguing that this served as an unconstitutional prohibition on free expression, and that it deprived them of much-needed revenue. (Both publications are independent, student-run publications, not funded by their respective universities.) It took years for the case to work its way through the court system, with a federal judge siding with the papers and the Supreme Court declining he case, but the 2–1 ruling by the Fourth Circuit may well be the end of things. The Office of the Attorney General says that they haven’t decided if they want to appeal the case back up to the Supreme Court.

In the court’s published opinion—which summarizes the very persuasive arguments in favor of the Cav Daily’s position, and the lousy arguments raised by the Virginia Attorney General’s office—Judge Stephanie Thacker finds that the prohibition does present an unconstitutional First Amendment restraint, and that it “prohibits large numbers
of adults who are 21 years of age or older from receiving truthful information about a product that they are legally allowed to consume.”

In no small part because of a lack of advertising income, the Cav Daily is a substantially smaller newspaper than when this case first started, and comes out less frequently. They’ve moved their operations online substantially, in order to deal with this. The revenue from alcohol advertising could have served them well, and surely would have left them in better financial shape today. For all of the attorney general’s talk about eliminating burdensome regulations that make it tough to run a small business, he sure has fought hard in favor of keeping this regulation, and it’s been awfully tough on these two small businesses.

Lunsford Fighting Off Revenge Porn

Albemarle County Commonwealth Attorney Denise Lunsford has filed a request with a Missouri court for an ex parte order of protection against a prominent attorney, who posted “nude and semi nude photos” of her to Twitter. The attorney, David Cosgrove, dated Lunsford when they were law students together 25 years ago. Lunsford, who is not married, started dating Cosgrove again last year, but broke it off to return to her long-time partner. In a response to Lunsford’s court filing, Cosgrove confessed to posting the images, but claimed that she “knowingly and voluntarily gave or allowed Mr. Cosgrove to take the images.” (Lunsford says that she didn’t know that most of the photos had been taken.) Last month, in an e-mail to Lunsford, Cosgrove confessed to “doing you harm” and that “I deeply regret my hazy and crazy actions.” Lunsford says that Cosgrove became angry when she broke up with him, which is when he started posting the images, in which he identified her by name; Cosgrove says, in his apparent defense, that he’s an alcoholic. The Daily Progress and NBC-29 both have stories about this.

There’s a large, growing world of so-called “revenge porn” on the internet, with several websites dedicated to letting men share private images of their exes to humiliate them. Just today the New York Times published a long story about efforts to enact state and federal legislation to outlaw this practice. What once would have been a couple of Polaroids reclaimed at the end of a relationship are now impossible to ever remove from somebody else’s possession with any degree of confidence.

Where things get weird is with CBS-19’s story. According to CBS-19, Cosgrove is now alleging that Lunsford is just trying to silence him, so that he can’t tell people that she “watch a movie in her home with her child present” (CBS-19’s words), and that disgraced—and wanted—former Board of Supervisors member Chris Dumler was present as well. Why in the world a woman can’t watch a movie in her own home, I have no idea, but perhaps CBS-19 will clear that up. (Note that there appears to be nothing about an an ex parte order of protection that would have prevented Cosgrove from making such allegations, although I’m not an attorney.) Given that Cosgrove has confessed to posting revenge porn of Lunsford, sharing images that may well be 25 years old, it’s difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt with this new claim.

Warrant for Dumler’s Arrest in Orange

There’s a warrant out for Chris Dumler’s arrest in Orange County, Chris Stover reports for CBS-19. He’s charged with a failure to appear in court but, unusually, he failed to show up as the attorney. In June—on the day that he resigned from the Board of Supervisors—he asked a judge to let him withdraw from a case that he’d thought was done. But the case wasn’t done, and when Dumler failed to show up at the next hearing, the judge ordered him to come to court to explain himself. He never showed, and the court has been unable to find him. In the Progress, Liana Bayne quotes Supervisor Dennis Rooker as saying that he thought Dumler planned to move away (a sensible decision), and all the supervisors say that they haven’t heard from him since prior to his resignation. Bayne went to Dumler’s home and found it maintained and apparently occupied, but Stover reports that Dumler’s phone number has been disconnected.

The 28-year-old Democrat was elected to represent the Scottsville district on the Board of Supervisors in 2011, but then he was arrested on charges of forcible sodomy, pleaded guilty to sexual battery, and eventually resigned his seat in June.

BOS Approves a Costco for Stonefield

The Board of Supervisors has given the Stonefield shopping center permission to add a Costco, Sean Tubbs wrote for Charlottesville Tomorrow on Thursday. Ken Boyd and Petie Craddock were the dissenters in the vote. Permission was required because the developer, South Carolina-based Edens, needed to change the already approved layout of the roads to accommodate the 155,000 square foot building, and because they’d need to relocate a plaza and eliminate a café in favor of an “enhanced pedestrian corridor,” which I assume is a euphemism for a sidewalk. With these two waivers, that’s a total of seventeen waivers that the county has granted Edens for Stonefield.

As Dave McNair writes in The Hook, all of this is precisely the opposite of what Edens promoted Stonefield as. Back when they were calling this “Albemarle Place,” Edens pitched the development as a mixed-use, new urbanist, anti-shopping-center, complete with renderings that showed something like the Downtown Mall, transplanted to 29 North. (They even labelled one road in the development as “New Main Street,” stomach-turningly.) They’re still touting it as “neighborhood style [sic] development” on their website, despite the addition of Costco.

Those puzzled by Ken Boyd’s dissenting vote might look at this bit of McNair’s article:

“There is somewhat of a campaign of misinformation against the Stonefield application for minor plan variations and it appears to me to be being waged by other developers,” claims Rooker, whose district Stonefield occupies.

“In my opinion,” he adds, “this developer is being singled out for much harsher treatment because of a campaign of opposition from other developers and at least one board member who is carrying their water.”

Say what?

Rooker’s is not the only allegation of a board member carrying water for a developer, but none of his fellow supervisors had responded to such claims by press time.

9/16 Update: I originally wrote that Edens is based in North Carolina. They’re actually based in South Carolina.



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