Twenty years ago, I paid a visit to Prof. Michael Broyde in his Emory University Law School office, to ask him to help me understand the Jewish legal doctrine of lashon hara–telling bad things about someone. I was interested in the relationship between this proscribed behavior and the practice of journalism. He told me that, unlike defamation in U.S. law, lashon hara is considered wrong even if the bad thing is true.
A couple of days ago, Broyde found himself on the wrong end of such journalistic lashon hara. In a punctilious piece of investigative reporting, the Jewish Channel’s Steven I. Weiss made out a case that Broyde had invented an elderly rabbi called Hershel Goldwasser to engage in some classic online sock puppetry.
Specifically, Weiss alleged that Broyde used the Goldwasser character to 1) praise himself to other scholars; 2) attack rabbinic authorities he disagreed with–including Atlanta’s most respected orthodox rabbi; and 3) gain access to a listserv of his rabbinic rivals that he wouldn’t have had access to under his own name. In his correspondence to scholarly journals, “Goldwasser” said that Broyde had been a “one-in-[a]-million” student of his in high school and that because of the relationship Broyde sent him drafts of his brilliant articles to review — thereby explaining his frequent reference to them.
Not only could Weiss find no independent confirmation of Goldwasser’s existence but he ascertained that his communications came from the same Comcast and Emory IP addresses that Broyde uses. At first, when confronted with the evidence, Broyde denied inventing Goldwasser. (“Not my character…He’s a rebbe [teacher] of mine from many years ago who’s deceased [and] made aliyah [moved to Israel] ten years ago, or something like that, maybe more, I don’t remember.”) But shortly after Weiss’ story appeared, he admitted responsibility in an email of apology to one of the rabbis on the invaded listserv.
How much of this kind of thing is out there, just waiting to be uncovered? (A few weeks ago, LGM readers were treated to the amusing spectacle of law professor Brian Leiter’s various sock puppets traipsing across the internet discussing, among many other things, the awesomeness of Brian Leiter).
Perhaps it’s time to convene a Truth and Reconciliation blog panel, which will grant amnesty to the purveyors of sock puppetry, in return for a full and frank confession, and a promise to mend one’s narcissistic ways.
On a related note, consider this suggestion, made just a couple of days ago by Broyde’s Emory Law School colleague Dorothy Brown: ($$$)
The question that needs to be asked is: What makes for successful lawyers in the 21st century and how would a new rankings system reward law schools that did the job well? Although U.S. News does not seem to care, lawyers, law schools and consumers should. The current market for lawyers rewards value added. Given this, law schools must develop leaders who are problem solvers and collaborative workers — leaders who have the integrity to say no when no one in the room wants to hear it. If a rankings system could take that into account, society as a whole would be better off . . .
We are facing some of the most intractable problems of recent history. A ranking system that rewarded those law schools that instilled integrity, developed leaders, and graduated problem solvers would be good for the country. We must find a better test to teach to.
This is the conclusion to an op-ed which is devoted to describing how structural changes in the market for legal services are eliminating jobs for lawyers.
Nothing illustrates the essential emptiness of so much of what goes on in legal academia as recommendations (and they are legion) of this sort. Do graduate programs in other disciplines advertise that they are going to “add value” by turning their charges into social leaders chock full of moral integrity, who also possess amorphous “problem solving” skills? I guess the military academies make similar claims at the undergraduate level, but leaving aside whether those claims actually have any plausibility, those institutions immerse 18-year-olds in a 24/7 experience, as opposed to spending a few hours per week attempting to convey legal doctrine to 25-year-olds surfing Facebook.
Seriously, how exactly are law professors supposed to “instill integrity” in law students, or “develop leaders?” In what way are we qualified to perform these amazing feats, even assuming such miracles could be produced in law school classrooms? And even if we assume enough can openers to make this a plausible educational mission, how is any of this going to get anybody a job?