UPDATE: Over the course of the last few weeks, Bilerico Project and Change.org have worked closely with Rockstar Energy Drink to take concrete steps on addressing LGBT rights. We are pleased to announce though these discussions a bold agreement was reached between Rockstar and several LGBT rights organizations. This agreement resulted in significant changes to Rockstar Energy Drink's corporate practices to reflect LGBT-friendly policies, and also saw more than $100,000 distributed to four LGBT organizations through a multi-year, systemic gift. More details here. -Bil
In April, guest blogger Michael Jones reported on Rockstar energy drink's connections with well-known homophobic radio host Michael Savage (real name: Michael Weiner). About a week ago, Rockstar's lawyers came calling and threatened legal action if we didn't immediately remove the offending post for "factual inaccuracies." The beverage company took issue with two sentences from our guest blogger's post. It claims they are untrue and should cause the post to be removed from the archives.
Rockstar threatened several other bloggers and Facebook users with legal action - including Michael for his crosspost on change.org. The company's legal team also contacted alternet.com, wiqaable.com, gaywired.com, and gaysocialites.com.
Facebook closed the groups Rockstar complained about and, in some cases, deleted the user's account entirely. Change.org and other bloggers have removed their posts to avoid litigation. Our Terms of Service gives us the copyright for the version of Michael's post we published. We have offered Rockstar's lawyers a correction to the post, but we've refused to remove it. The guest post is currently the most popular article on the site.
Details on the company's legal threats and the truth about Rockstar after the jump.
Why Does Rockstar Want to Sue Bilerico Project?
Rockstar's lawyer complained to me that Michael's article contained two inaccurate sentences and that the gist of the article was "Michael Savage is a filthy creep and he has deep connections with Rockstar energy drink." While the attorney made it perfectly clear he agreed Savage was a disgusting pig, it was unfair to the company to link Rockstar with Savage just because Michael Savage's son, Russell Weiner, is the current CEO of RockStar.
The two sentences they specifically disputed are:
It [Rockstar Energy Drink] was co-founded by conservative radio host Michael Savage.
Michael Savage is reaping profits from the selling of Rockstar Energy Drink.
According to Rockstar's attorney, Savage only advised his son on the drink and not the company. They dispute that Savage directly profits from sales of the energy drink as well. Michael Savage's Facebook group now contains this disclaimer: "(in no way affiliated with ROCKSTAR* ENERGY DRINK, the world's most POWERFUL energy drink!)"
Who's Rockstar Energy Drinks' Daddy?
When he's not saying that transgender people are "freaks" who are "begging" to be the victims of violence, that lesbians are the equivalent of Nazis who make him "reach" for his "glock" when he sees them (especially if they're butch), that the "homosexual mafia" is "raping" children's minds, that gay men should "get AIDS and die," or advocating the mass murder of Muslim people, Michael Savage is one of "the leading herbalists in the world." Rockstar's website used to tout Savage's skills on their information about the company page.
"I was very fortunate to have been raised by two of the leading herbalists in the world, Dr. and Mrs. Michael Weiner, Ph.D. ... From my earliest walking days, I remember exploring the jungles of the South Pacific on expeditions with my parents. ... My family has taken that spirit and experience - their lifetime journey - and developed the most complete, most unique, most powerful, and most honest energy beverage ever created: RockStar." - CEO Russell Goldencloud Weiner
Savage denied co-founding either the drink or the beverage to the San Francisco Chronicle in May 2009. After San Fran Mayor Gavin Newsom's gubernatorial campaign returned a $25,000 donation by Weiner, Savage told the paper, "I had nothing to do with the founding or creation of Rockstar."
Weiner also says that the old promo copy notwithstanding, there's no connection either. He told the Chronicle that he'd started the company "with $50,000 of my own money. It has nothing to do with my dad. He's not an officer...he's not the founder or the creator."
Russell Weiner shares his father's political views. When introducing Savage at a concert, young Weiner shouted: "Who's heterosexual and proud? [...] If you're not, hopefully you will be soon!" He then referred to Michael Savage as "our leader." The apple doesn't fall far from the tree; together they co-founded the extremely conservative organization, the Paul Revere Society.
If you go to the Rockstar website, the page with CEO Weiner's compliments for the "leading herbalists" is gone. If you try to look at an archived version, you get the following message: "We're sorry, but access to http://web.archive.org/web/20021211144041/ www.rockstar69.com/new/rockstar.html has been blocked by the site owner via robots.txt"
Does Michael Savage Make Money From Rockstar Energy Drinks?
While it's unclear whether he's making royalties off his recipe, Savage doesn't have an official role with the company. He doesn't draw a regular paycheck from the beverage maker.
Savage's wife Janet Weiner, however, brings home what I can only imagine is a hefty paycheck as the company's listed director, treasurer and secretary. She is also listed in Nevada state filings as the director, treasurer and secretary of Michael Savage's entertainment company, Savage Productions. According to the Nevada Secretary of State, both Rockstar Energy Drinks and Savage Productions are registered at the same street address and mailbox. Janet Weiner is the only other listed officer other than CEO Russell Weiner.
Janet herself hasn't been free from controversy, either. She famously yelled with her husband that San Francisco was "this filthy, drug- ridden vermin city."
Does Michael Savage directly profit from the sale of Rockstar energy drinks? His lawyers insist that he doesn't. Does his household profit from the sale of Rockstar energy drinks? Unless his wife is working for free, he and his wife keep separate bank accounts and finances, or she gives her wages to charity, there's income flowing back into the Michael and Janet Weiner household.
Why Threatening Bloggers Is a Bad Idea
When Rockstar's lawyer gave me a jingle, I was polite but firm. I told him under no circumstances would we be willing to remove the post. The Editorial Team had a meeting and, like the New York Times does for corrections, we're willing to put up a correction/update on the post to clarify the two sentences they dispute.
The attorney wasn't happy with that result and accused me of not being apologetic enough. He also said I was holding up a successful resolution of their threat to sue Michael Jones. As I explained to him, we own the copyright to the article now and not Michael Jones. It's our decision and he can't force us to remove the post either. Holding him hostage for our decision is not only cowardly, but won't fly legally.
Instead they've ticked me off enough that I'm willing to detail what they've done to Bilerico Project and other bloggers and Facebook users. I'm not the only one telling the tale either.
The Wikipedia entries for both Michael Savage and Rockstar Energy Drink have now been updated to include the story of Rockstar vs Internet. One goes so far as to suggest that the unintended consequences of Rockstar's intimidation tactic will be the Streisand Effect - the more you try to suppress something online, the bigger the chance it will go viral as more and more people want to see the forbidden fruit.
To bastardize an old saying about attacking a newspaper reporter, you don't pick a fight with a guy who buys digital ink by the gigabyte.
Instead of doing the right thing - distancing themselves publicly from Savage's statements and highlighting inclusive steps they've taken to ensure their employees and customers aren't discriminated against - they've chosen to go on the attack.
Because now Rockstar has the clarification they wanted from Bilerico Project. I'll update the old post to reflect the updated information with a link to this post. I hope Rockstar is happy with the result.