RWA and Courtney Milan, Pt. 2
Coffee has been consumed and I’m going over the various pieces of documentation available. Mind you, this is still early days on the topic and RWA has not, to my knowledge, made any statements about what happened other than those contained in the Ethics Committee findings. That means the situation is still fluid and, as is so often the case, folks are jumping in based on emotion and not studying what we do know.
As a bit of background, Milan is known to this blog and we’ve covered her several times before. Not for anything negative but for her work against plagiarists. The latest occurred within the past year when she helped take on a serial plagiarist working out of, iirc, South America. Milan was one of her victims, as we Nora Roberts. So to say I was surprised to wake this morning and see the latest concerning her is putting it mildly.
But, other than knowing she is a romance writer and attorney and has worked against plagiarism, I really don’t know much about her. That may be why I’m not having such a visceral reaction to what has transpired.
The first complaint:
Author Suzan Tisdale filed the first complaint against Milan with the RWA. According to the complaint, Tisdale is an author with more than 20 books published and has started her own publishing company. Her complaint is “for blatant ethics violations for repeatedly and intentionally engaging in conduct that is, at best, dishonest and disingenuous.”
Needless to say, Twitter posts play a large role in the complaint. When will folks learn they need to use common sense before hitting the “post” button on social media platforms like Twitter?
Specifically, Tisdale raises four issues for RWA’s consideration. The first is “Repeatedly or intentionally engaging in conduct injurious to RWA or its purposes.” Let’s face it. That’s a broad and almost generic complaint. It is also one that would probably be the easiest for RWA to rely on in coming to a decision because it is totally a judgment call.
The next complaints allege Milan “repeatedly or intentionally engaged in” what amounts to cyber bullying. You can read the specific language in the complaint. What follows next in the complaint is the history of how we got to today’s controversy. I’m sure no one is surprised to find folks on Twitter took exception to someone supporting a conservative or liking a tweet by Trump. We see that all the time. But it is what is alleged to have happened next that led to the complaint in question.
Tisdale stood up for her editor, the person “foolish” enough not to follow the group. She contends she looked into the allegations of racism and found no proof to support them. That’s where Milan supposedly stepped into the fray, wanting to know how many authors of color Tisdale had published. (Note, at that point, Tisdale’s “house” hadn’t published anyone)
According to Tisdale, Milan went on to then start attacking another of Tisdale’s editors. The support for the alleged attack? A book the editor wrote some 20-odd years ago. A book Milan admitted in her series of tweets she didn’t read. In fact, she admitted she hadn’t read the entire sample. She made a judgment on the quality of the book and its message and the author’s intent based on a few pages and took to twitter to attack.
Now, let’s face it. We all make judgments about books within a few pages. Where I believe Milan went wrong was in taking to twitter and calling the book–and by implication the author–“a fucking racist mess.” (the complaint contains a screen cap of the tweet). In this day and age of Twitter mobs, that is simply asking for folks to start piling on.
But, more to the point, it is where publishers start getting cold feet and canceling contracts and books. Something we’ve seen happen before and something Tisdale alleges to have happened in this case.
To support her claims, Tisdale included a number of screen caps from Milan’s twitter feed. You can see them here.
The Second Complaint:
The second complaint is from the editor in question, Kathryn Lynn Davis. In the complaint, Davis also alleges Milan engaged in cyber bullying that cost not only a three-book contract but damaged her reputation. Serious charges and something the RWA had to take a hard look at.
Davis also brought up potential IP violations by Milan. Specifically, Milan quoted large portions of the book in question and did so in a way Davis alleges were meant to devalue the work. She offers two examples to support this claim in her filing.
Needless to say, Milan denies the charges against her. She has been a voice for diversity within the RWA over the years, even before it became en vogue. Has she gone too far, as alleged? In my mind, yes. She attacked a book and the author based without doing her homework. She did so in a public forum and using language any reasonable person, especially a lawyer, should have known would incite negative feelings for the other person involved. Does it reach the level of seriousness to require RWA to suspend her from the organization? I don’t know.
In Comes the Ethics Committee:
According to the Ethics Committee’s findings,:
the committee determined that Ms. Milan’s comments were in violation of the organization’s expressed purpose of creating a “safe and respectful environment” for its community of writers.”
The committee did not find for Tisdale on the other three complaints. However, the committee did note that it was unable to adjudicate the Twitter comments because of the way the rules are written, rules that were put into place by the Ethics Committee when Milan served on the Board. It further went on to say, Milan “very likely understood she would be able to act in the manner she did, without being in violation of the code.”
In other words, they felt she knew what she was doing and was confident the Board could do nothing about it. Were they right? I don’t know. But, again, her actions do seen to fail the sniff test.
However, because of the complaint they did uphold, the committee recommended Milan be censured by the RWA, be suspended from membership for a year and be banned for life from holding any leadership position with the RWA on either a national or local level.
Milan’s Response to Everything:
Milan has not taken this and slunk off to a corner in silence. Like others, she has taken to Twitter.
Here are a few of her tweets:
Remember, at the time all this went down, Tisdale’s “house” hadn’t published anything. When that was pointed out, she went after one of the editors for something written 20 years ago. Something she didn’t read all of before using inflaming language to condemn. Shouting “racist” on Twitter is something she should have known would not end well for anyone.
There are a number of other tweets by Milan about all this. I’ll leave it to you to read them.
I’ll be honest. I hate this. I’d respected Milan for how she stood up for authors, herself and others, against plagiarism. But the tweets leading up to the complaint and her tweets since the committee’s recommendation lessen her, at least in my eyes.
She claims she is being persecuted because she called out a book for being racist and the committee didn’t address that issue. Except that’s not really what happened. She is being punished for behavior that reflects negatively on the organization. It is not what she said but the way she said it. As an attorney, she knows–or should know– that. It was the manner in which she conducted the “discussion” and the way it impacted the organization that led to the decision.
Her continued attempts to justify not only what she said but how she said it don’t help her cause,in my opinion. Instead, it makes her look like she is trying to play the victim instead of admitting she screwed up and should have been more circumspect in her language, etc.
The fact she chose a book that is 20 years old to attack also leaves me shaking my head. How many of us haven’t said or done something when we were younger that could be looked on very differently today than they were at the time?
If you google Milan and the RWA, you will find the cites I’ve listed as well as a few others. Twitter is alive with posts about it. Milan isn’t happy that the “trolls”–ie, those who don’t support her–have found her Twitter feed. She has her supporters and she has her detractors. Welcome to the real world.
Here’s the thing. She might have done all this with the best of intentions. But she did them in the wrong way. She should have known it would blow up. She reasonably should have foreseen complaints being filed. Most of all, she should have thought long and hard before hitting the post button with accusations phrased in such a way any reasonable person would know they would bring derision on the person they were aimed at.
I applaud RWA for taking the allegations seriously and not sweeping them under the rug. That’s certainly more than SFWA did when certain members (including past and future officers) attacked members of the Sad Puppies and did their best to ruin careers. Did they take the right action? I’m not sure. The action does seem harsh for first-time offense. So that leaves me wondering if there is more we don’t yet know. As I said earlier, there is sure to be more information forthcoming. Where will it lead? Your guess is as good as mine. The only thing I know for sure is this incident is a prime example of why writers and editors need to think long and hard before hitting the post button on any social media platform and on Twitter in particular.
Remember, the internet is forever.