College graduate Tucker Max sued for Web site content

By Isaac Wolf

Meet Tucker Max: Chicago Class of ’98, published author, dating aficionado, self-proclaimed asshole, and–most recently–the cynosure of a heated lawsuit filed by a beauty queen ex-girlfriend over details about her published on his widely-read Web site.

Max was issued a temporary injunction last week by a Florida court to stop posting information about Katy Johnson, a two-time Miss Vermont, on the grounds that his story of their relationship exploited her for personal gain.

According to Max’s “The Miss Vermont Story,” the two allegedly had sex on the evening they met and developed a romantic relationship largely based on sex. The Vermont story projects Johnson as petty, unintelligent, and emotionally pliable, undermining the image of a strong woman Johnson attempts to create for herself as a celebrity.

“Don’t call us Sweetie Babe or Honey,” reads a brightly colored cartoon on her Web site. “We don’t find sexual HA HArassment funny!”

The site uses “Starrlette” cartoon characters to help Johnson express female empowerment:”Katy and the Six Starrlettes make a point,” one message reads. “Point to girls for message.”

Max, conversely, considers his Web site’s commentary–including his story of Johnson–to be truthful and an expression of how men, in general, think. The Web site began as an online application to date him, but has developed into a comprehensive bank of stories, logs and commentary, in varying degrees of offensiveness.

“As bad as it is socially, U of C taught me how to think, how to become a good enough writer to pull this off,” Max said, adding that his favorite book is The History of the Peloponnesian War, which he read in his Civilization sequence here. “How ironic is it that I could be our generation’s icon of partying and drinking and womanizing and I went to U of C? That amuses me to no end.”

In an interview from his new home in Austin, Texas, Max described his raunchy, rude, and sometimes disturbing Web site in terms of being confident enough with himself to express his inner thoughts.

“I’m not different than anyone else,” he said. “We all have thoughts about fat and ugly people and wanting to have sex. I just say them in public. I say the same shit everyone else is thinking.”

Max’s claim that he holds true to the general male consciousness contrasts with the extended philosophy he gave on dating, emphasizing that being an honest person has nothing to do with dating–the subject in which Max now considers himself an expert, having just completed his first book The Definitive Book Of Pick-Up Lines.

“The truth of the matter is far less important than the perception,” Max said. “The truth is utterly irrelevant.”

Max, who wrote a column for the Maroon while at the University, said that everything on his Web site is true, except for some peripheral details that have been modified to “stay out of trouble.”

But Max may soon be in deep trouble.

“This victory should send a clear message to all parasitic smut peddlers who live off of the good names of others,” said Michael Santucci, Johnson’s lawyer, in a press release.

Santucci declined to comment on the case, instead directing his comments to the offensiveness of Max’s Web site.

Johnson did not return multiple calls for this story.

Max, a graduate of Duke’s law school, calls the case “farcical, a joke.” Currently working on developing a defense strategy, Max declined to comment extensively on the case, only saying, “This is an issue of free speech, not as and her lawyer characterize it.”

According to Santucci’s press release, Max is being sued under a Florida statute that prohibits the use of a person’s name, image, photograph or other likeness for advertising or other commercial purpose without consent.

Underpinning the issue of free speech is the legal struggle to determine exactly what constitutes free speech, and what may be said publicly–even if true.

According to Geoffrey Stone, a professor in the law school and an expert on freedom of speech, Max could be found guilty even if all of his account is accurate. There are three major guidelines–determined on a state-by-state basis–for unacceptable publication of material: it must be offensive, non-newsworthy, and disseminated with “reckless disregard,” Stone said.

In the Florida court system, calling into question a woman’s chastity is one of the primary issues of defamation. Making accusations about the sexual activity of a woman automatically implies defamation, according to prominent First Amendment attorney Larry Walters, who has law offices in Orlando, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

“It’s a sexist law, but it’s on the books and it hasn’t been repealed,” Walters said. “So when a woman’s sex life is questioned, the courts presume that it causes damage.”

What struck both Stone and Walters as exceptional about this case is the fact that Max was ordered to remove Johnson’s story before the case was heard, because it’s unclear if Max’s story is true. In cases that deal with private matters, judges are often hard pressed to reach a satisfying conclusion.

“It often turns into a swearing match in situations like this,” Walters said. “How are judges supposed to know who’se telling the truth? They’re not lie detectors.”

Stone saw the decision to preemptively censor Max’s Web site as an indicator for the tone of the courtroom. Going out of his way not to formally predict how the case would resolve itself, Stone was swayed by that the fact that the court has already made him take down the story–without regard to its veracity. To him, it is a telltale sign that Max will be found liable.

The broader effect of the decision to force Max’s Vermont story off the internet, according to Walters, is that it is a step toward creating an “extremely dangerous” precedent of depriving citizens of the right to free speech.

“The conservative judges are giving less and less protection to erotic and sexually oriented speech,” Walters said. “Courts are more hesitant to give protection to controversial matters of speech. But really, it’s only these harsh matters of speech that need protection.”

But perhaps the most pointed commentary about constitutional law and freedom of speech came in rhyme form.

“Obscene things being said in the name of the flag,” the front of Johnson’s Web page reads, “should make most people want to GAG!”