Not That There's Anything Wrong With It

The mythical tradition of the alumni magazine prank was elevated (or lowered?) to the level of litigation last month, when Ross Weil and Brett Royce sued American University for printing a "Class Notes" blurb announcing their wedding in Boston.

September 11, 2007
 

The mythical tradition of the alumni magazine prank was elevated (or lowered?) to the level of litigation last month, when Ross Weil and Brett Royce sued American University for printing a "Class Notes" blurb announcing their wedding in Boston.

The trouble, according to the lawsuit, which was filed on August 30 in federal court in New York City, is that the item published in American Magazine this spring wasn't true. Weil and Royce are not married, and Weil is not the "chief operating officer of the Gay Rights Brigade, which lobbies for constitutional amendments providing for homosexual privacy and marriage rights."

The suit seeks a combined $1.5 million for the two plaintiffs, who graduated in 2002. It accuses the magazine of libel, acting "in malice, reckless and gross negligence" -- and says it falsely "imputes homosexual behavior" between the men.

The plaintiffs' lawyer, Michael Kaufman, declined to comment, but he told the New York Post on Sunday that no one at the magazine or the Washington-based university had contacted his clients to confirm the notice. "It has nothing to do with homophobia," he said of their lawsuit.

A spokeswoman for the university, Maralee Csellar, couldn't comment on the details of the case but said "we depend on the accuracy of our alums" when publishing the "Class Notes" section, which is not posted online. The magazine is published three times a year and is produced by the University Publications division, under the president's office, with a stated circulation of about 85,000.

Earlier this year, the Yale Alumni Magazine ran then retracted a false announcement of a graduate's "coming out party," which it discovered when the originator wrote in to apologize for the "silly and foolish prank." To trick magazine editors who e-mailed to confirm the submission, he had created a fake account pretending to be the person in question.

Given the reliance of magazine editors on reader submissions to fill alumni news pages, inaccuracies and exaggerations perpetuated by alumni are not rare.

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