Balticon Publishes Program Head’s Apology to Burke

Balticon has posted on the convention’s Facebook page the text of an apology from Baltimore 56 Programming Head Lisa Alder-Golden addressed to Ms. Stephanie “Flash” Burke, the Board of Directors, and the Balticon Con Chair.

For the background, see “Balticon Chair Apologizes After Author Stephanie Burke Removed From Panels”.

40 thoughts on “Balticon Publishes Program Head’s Apology to Burke

  1. Notice how she admits that the e-mail about which Burke was relentlessly harassed for not responding never actually got sent.

  2. This apology would be great if yelling was all that happened. Now, it’s the smallest, easiest step. She doesn’t address the allegations at all.

  3. An apology is fine as far as it goes, and this is clear and circumstantial. But taking into account what she’s apologising for – publicly shouting at an attendee and panelist after failing completely to follow codes of practice – surely this is a situation where more is needed? A resignation, for example? Her behaviour was, as she admits, grossly unprofessional and fell far short of what’s expected from a person in that role. There’s a logical extrapolation from that.

  4. Okay, you apologized. That was step one. Now, what corrective actions are being taken to make amends to Ms. Burke? I would think the first and most important thing to do is for this person to step down permanently or be removed from their position in Balticon. Banned from ever attending again as well. This behavior was childish, unprofessional, against the rules of the con, and completely destroys the trust creators must have when they are being asked to do the heavy lifting of volunteering to serve on panels.

    After she’s removed, Balticon will still have a lot of work to do to return trust to the community. And I don’t think they will ever regain Ms. Burke’s trust, nor should she give it easily in light of this failure.

  5. @Msb,

    I don’t think this counts as a “decent apology”.

    In a “decent” apology, the person at fault should acknowledge the things they did wrong, and accept responsibility for them. Here … Lisa Alder-Golden only even acknowledges a small subset of the things she did wrong. Instead, this attempt at an apology seems to try to to minimize the errors that Lisa Alder-Golden made, by focusing only on a few of the things she did wrong, but without even mentioning the worse things she did wrong.

    She effectively seems to be reframing the incident as “she should have sent the email, and she shouldn’t have yelled”, even though there was significantly more that she did wrong here.

    She also only mentions the consequences her wrongdoing had in a very vague fashion – “the harm I have caused”. If she really wanted to show that she understood and accepted the consequences of her actions, spelling out some of that harm that she caused would have been an indication.

    Her actions caused harm not just to Stephanie Burke and her reputation, but also to Balticon: every attendee at Balticon who came there to listen to Stephanie Burke had those further opportunities removed; her actions have also robbed every future Balticon of Stephanie Burke’s participation. I am fairly sure that many other potential attendees or panelists will keep this incident in mind when considering what conventions they may or may not choose.

    This purported apology, for me, doesn’t cut it.

  6. I hope this settles the doubts of the few people who questioned whether this happened because “nobody” witnessed the yelling.

  7. We’d be getting more useful progress out of some of these incidents if the organizations would say a) what they’re going to do to prevent this from happening again and b) what reparative steps are being taken. Don’t tell me how sorry you are, that’s just words. I’m a writer and I know what’s that worth when there isn’t anything behind them. Let’s have some actions backing this up. In my opinion, someone who makes multiple mistakes culminating in yelling at and shaming a fellow human being who is acting reasonably needs to go sort some personal shit out, for one.

    Even with this, a cloud still ends up clinging to poor Burke when, years down the line, some people will be going, “Oh yeah, wasn’t there some racism incident at Balticon she was part of? I don’t really remember what happened, but she was involved.”

  8. In software development the term minimum viable product means to release an application when it contains the least number of features that make it usable by early customers.

    Balticon is issuing minimum viable apologies. The con apologized for an “overzealous volunteer” removing Stephanie Burke from a panel and the programming director Lisa Adler-Golden has apologized for yelling at her in public.

    There’s no apology to clear Burke’s name after the original complaint. Adler-Golden doesn’t apologize for what she said, just that she said it in public and said anything at all.

    So far no one has come forward alleging that Burke said anything inappropriate at the panel. Nor has any panel attendee said they were contacted by Balticon in their investigation. Even the moderator said they haven’t been contacted.

    Balticon isn’t taking its code of conduct responsibilities seriously at all.

  9. FYI This apology was copied to me by Balticon’s social media person “in the interest of further transparency”, which I interpret to be saying that it’s not the end of the process. Another reason I take it that way is BSFS, at the end of its investigation into a CoC complaint last year, issued its own statement of conclusions. We’ll see.

  10. Appreciate the update. It will be interesting to see whether anything further happens.

  11. I have noted elsewhere that Lisa’s behavior definitely opens Balticon as an organization and Lisa specifically to a lawsuit for defamation. Thus far, every person who is an actual witness to the panel (such as Sarah Avery) has given an account of the panel far different from the version Lisa (who was not at the panel, and whose statements are likely inadmissible hearsay) loudly shouted for anyone to hear.

    Balticon is in a world of legal trouble here, and they don’t seem to realize it.

  12. I will also point out that I have seen multiple regular Balticon panel participants state that they will either never return to the convention or will not return to the convention until this situation is rectified satisfactorily, with fairly extensive requirements for what satisfactorily means.

  13. I firmly believe the make amends and further actions part of this rests on the part of Balticon, and not Lisa as an individual. If I had been Balticon I would not be releasing things in drips and drabs, but have 1-2 comprehensive posts. Then again, I have a lot of experience with handling code of conduct complaints, including when the internet gets involved. It’s a hell of a wheelhouse to have.

  14. This is in no way an apology TO Ms Burke. This is a letter to the con trying to cover her own butt. This was defamation all the way around. Ms. Burke deserves a formal PUBLIC apology and something needs to be done to repair the damage they have done to her. This is ludicrous!!!

  15. This is definitely not the end of the process. Someone posting from Balticon’s official Facebook account informed me that they will be contacting me with questions shortly. I’d be more impressed if shortly had a specific definition, and if I had an individual name to ascribe that contact to, but it’s the first even semi-official contact I haven’t had to chase down, myself. (I messaged the one person on the concom I knew well enough to message out of the blue, but they were not looped in on the specifics of the investigation, so could only pass along that I was trying to reach the investigator(s?).

    In a couple of places online, I’ve seen the proverbial game of telephone starting to misrepresent what I’ve said, so I hope it’s okay for me to post here something I had to post on FB. Some person who probably was trying to act in good faith overgeneralized from my objection to how Stephanie Burke was treated (true!) to imply that I’d said the initial code of conduct complaint was bogus (not enough information to be sure yet!). I hope it’s all right if I quote here the entirety of my reply to that person. I also hope it’s okay that I don’t single them out by name, because I have no reason to think they were misrepresenting my words on purpose.

    I want to clarify one point. When I said I did not see a problem, I also said that my not seeing it didn’t prove that no problem could have existed. I arrived late to a panel I was moderating because of delays on the road, so I can’t rule out the possibility that something problematic was said before I arrived. I am a white cisgendered straight person, so I can’t rule out the possibility that something problematic could have been said but have gone right over my head because it was outside the range of my experience. If I knew the content of the complaint, I would be in a better position to say whether the complaint was reasonable or accurate, as far as my observation went, but I don’t know the content of the complaint. My current *impression* is that Stephanie Burke was simply misinterpreted by the anonymous complainant. I don’t have enough information, and didn’t witness enough of the events, to state that impression as an opinion or a judgment at this time, especially now that I hear that some of the things the complainant objected to were said at a different panel I didn’t attend. As a person who was sexually harassed out of fandom in the 1980s and didn’t feel physically safe to return until the early aughts, I’m not at ease with dismissing a code of conduct complaint and the person who made it before I even find out what it is. I do have enough context to have tremendous sympathy for what Stephanie has been through from the moment she was pulled off an ongoing panel over an uninvestigated accusation and made to do a perp walk to ops. That’s just wrong, no matter what preceded it. She was owed better, and she was owed an apology.

    Once I finally do get to talk to the investigator(s), they still might not be able to tell me all the details of the complaint, and I’ll be surprised if they are at liberty to say who made it. Looking back at the 1980s, when nobody seemed to care that random older men were getting handsy—without so much as introducing themselves, in crowded public spaces, over my loud objections—with the teenager I then was, at pretty much every convention I attended for three years until I gave up on the whole community, I now really want to separate the issue of the initial code of conduct complaint (accuracy currently not known by me) from the issue of how it was handled (clearly reprehensible in the extreme). We do not yet live in a world where codes of conduct both have teeth and are fairly enforced—we don’t really have either of those in any reliable way—but I’m not ready to give up on getting there.

  16. The fact that the victim of this still does not what they were accused of saying is a problem.

  17. Okay, the “Why haven’t you read the email I didn’t even send you???” is just egregiously wrong and terrible. Before yelling at someone about not responding to your emails the very FIRST thing you have to check is that it was actually sent. The second thing to check is whether it was delivered, and the third thing is whether or not it went into the spam trap. Point being, you shouldn’t yell at someone about an email non-response until you have thoroughly investigated why they might not have seen it.

    Like others I’m still waiting to find out if there was even any truth to the accusations that led to this revolting behavior on the part of Balticon.

    I do want to say, however, that even if this is all total bullcrap on the part of the Balticon staff from start to finish, this may not qualify as actionable defamation and Stephanie Burke should definitely consult a lawyer carefully before proceeding down that path. IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer) but a lot of high-profile defamation cases, particularly those involving social media recently for obvious reasons, have an inherent problem in that you can’t successfully sue someone for expressing a bad OPINION of you, instead of a bad FACT. As in, calling someone racist is an opinion, not a provable fact. You can’t sue because someone called you racist (or a transphobe or a misogynist or ableist or anything else that’s a matter of opinion.) Name-calling is not legally actionable, especially in the U.S.

    The whole “Threadnaught” train wreck on Twitter, if you’re familiar with that, is all about how anime voice actor Vic Mignogna (Ed in Fullmetal Alchemist) is trying to sue a couple women for calling him a sex pest on Twitter and costing him work. Except “sex pest” is just an opinion unless you are claiming he engaged in criminal sexual assault, which wasn’t claimed, so the suit has been the subject of much commentary and mockery in social media spaces.

    This is a very tricky area of law and is not something to embark upon without extremely careful consideration and a strong set of case facts. There is a related tort called “False Light” which might be more aligned with what happened at Balticon but different states have different laws and not all of them even recognize “False Light” claims so real legal advice is absolutely called for here.

    Note that while you can’t sue someone successfully for calling you a racist, you CAN sue if you can prove that they said you committed an illegal act due to racism. As in, if you are accused of denying someone housing due to their race, and you did not do so, you can sue for defamation because you are being accused of an actual illegal act. But someone just spouting off on Twitter about how racist you are is generally not an action for which you can get legal redress.

  18. I don’t think it’s the lack of a legal cause of action that prevents people from indulging their passions after being defamed.

    Do you mean they have a legal cause but can’t afford to sue, or that even people who have no cause will sue for defamation as long as they can afford it, just to drag their enemies through the legal mire? (AKA weaponizing the legal system for revenge?)

    I’m referring to cases like that cave diver suing Musk for calling him a “pedo guy”. He lost because it was determined that was just a generic insult and not an insinuation that the cave diver genuinely engaged in sex with children.

    Didn’t Worldcon just quit because they were sick of JDA’s BS, not because he actually could have won?

  19. Maytree: JDA sued Worldcon 76 on many different grounds and defamation was the only grounds that the first-level court decision allowed to proceed, saying it would require a jury to decide. I think I would take instruction from a case where a science fiction writer sued a convention before I would take it from a cave diver suing a billionaire.

  20. Having a valid defamation claim is less important than having the resources to pursue a valid defamation claim. I’ve been in a lawsuit. Unless you’re rich it is no place you should ever want to be. Even a friendly and sympathetic lawyer will clean out your retainer at breakneck speed. You reach a point where any perceived gain is of less value than not having attorneys blow through your retainer faster than you ever thought possible and demand more to continue their work.

    One thing would be of value for a convention panelist: Having a lawyer who will contact a convention on your behalf when you’ve been treated unfairly. That would make a con much more careful about what it says in public.

  21. JDA sued Worldcon 76 on many different grounds and defamation was the only grounds that the first-level court decision allowed to proceed, saying it would require a jury to decide. I think I would take instruction from a case where a science fiction writer sued a convention before I would take it from a cave diver suing a billionaire.

    So you think JDA’s claim would have made it past a jury? I mean that’s always a chance, as juries can be screwy, but my take was just that Worldcon didn’t want to deal with the expense of defending even a bogus claim, especially given that JDA’s attorney wasn’t charging him so he didn’t have any disincentive to continuing with his legal harassment of the con.

    Are you suggesting Stephanie Burke should treat Balticon like JDA treated Worldcon? I suppose if she could find a pro bono attorney to go after them it might be worth it for the revenge aspect and it’s always possible (as Rcade suggested) that just sending them a legal nastygram indicating you might be angry enough to actually do this would get Balticon’s attention pretty damn quick and might allow Burke to name her own reparations. I’m leery of the idea that Burke would benefit from going down the legal path against Balticon, though; the point of this kerfuffle is that Burke is NOT transphobic/ablelist/whatever-Balticon-is-claiming-she-is-since-we-still-don’t-know, so suing Balticon to punish them for making an utter shambles of enforcing their CoC might open a huge door for trolls that Burke might not want to open. As in, it could encourage a genuinely problematic person to sue Balticon for enforcing its CoC against them, and that could lead to cons either softening their CoCs for fear of legal action, or just not enforcing them. Or scrapping them entirely.

  22. @Sarah_Avery

    Looking back at the 1980s, when nobody seemed to care that random older men were getting handsy—without so much as introducing themselves, in crowded public spaces, over my loud objections—with the teenager I then was, at pretty much every convention I attended for three years until I gave up on the whole community, I now really want to separate the issue of the initial code of conduct complaint (accuracy currently not known by me) from the issue of how it was handled (clearly reprehensible in the extreme).

    I had similar experiences in the ‘80s, and had a similar response too. I also ran into more than one person like the bully in this tale, both directly and observing it happen to others. Those handsy men seem a little more subdued now, although possibly I just aged out of their preferred range, but it looks like some other things never change. There’s some bad legal advice in this thread. It’s never wise to inflict intimidation displays on others. I hope this investigation leads to positive change.

  23. Maytree: I brought up the JDA case to contradict your claim about the weak prospects for defamation cases. A California court didn’t think it was that weak.

    Worldcon 76 was going to have to provide evidence of JDA making racist statements — their major weakness was that the ones they initially pointed to came out after the date of their statement about why he had been banned from the con. Whatever people think about JDA or what he has shown in many insulting posts about black authors subsequently (and I have saved some screencaps), it was a mistake for Worldcon 76 to characterize him that way in its statement, and that was going to make their case hard to fight.

    Since JDA’s attorney only stated after the settlement that he had provided his services pro bono, I think it only mattered to Worldcon 76 what they were paying their attorney. From a litigation viewpoint they were wise to settle since they could do it for an apology and a small amount of cash that would have been much less than the legal bills that would be run up by going to trial. But what conrunning fandom needed was for JDA to be defeated at trial. What you’re concerned about has already happened, it’s not awaiting the Balticon situation to play out.

  24. @ Christian Brunschen
    In comparison to the usual nopology – apologizing “IF you were offended/embarrassed/harmed” – this one is decent, if not good. Of course, it is also useless bloviating if not followed by full amends for the harm done, preferably made as publicly as the harm inflicted. Points off for the self-exculpatory, “that my email had actually been sent”. Adler-Golden, not Ops, is responsible for Adler-Golden’s behavior.

    @ Sarah Avery
    I wish Balticon were behaving as honorably as you.

  25. @Msb,

    The word “decent” has connotations of “could be better, but is fundamentally good enough”.

    Looking at its contents, this supposed apology is not in any way, shape or form “good enough”. The fact that other attempted apologies are even worse does not raise the level of this one or make it any less inadequate.

    Any comparison with other, worse apology attempts can only serve to try to look this one better than it deserves – and to me that simply doesn’t fly.

    Look at this apology attempt by its own contents, on its own merits – and then the conclusion, to me, is clearly that it is simply not good enough, among other things because it minimizes and even ignores the actions taken by the person at fault, as well as the actual consequences of those actions.

  26. That is not even close to being an apology.

    If Balticon wants to have any credibility left, they need to clean out their house.

  27. this may not qualify as actionable defamation and Stephanie Burke should definitely consult a lawyer carefully before proceeding down that path. IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer) but a lot of high-profile defamation cases, particularly those involving social media recently for obvious reasons, have an inherent problem in that you can’t successfully sue someone for expressing a bad OPINION of you, instead of a bad FACT. As in, calling someone racist is an opinion, not a provable fact.

    That’s all true, but calling “Stephanie a racist”. Isn’t what Lisa allegedly did. Go back and read Stephanie’s account of the incident – according to Stephanie, Lisa said that Stephanie had used specific slurs and had advocated certain positions and Lisa had made those statements publicly.

    That’s not Lisa giving an opinion. That is Lisa claiming certain facts. If those facts are false, that’s a classic example of defamation. Since Balticon didn’t record the panels in question, and appears to have no actual witnesses that saw what Lisa alleged, that’s a terrible legal position for Balticon (and Lisa) to be in.

  28. Since Balticon didn’t record the panels in question,

    Balticon DID record the panels in question; their own online schedule contained a link to watch them online. One recording has mysteriously gone missing, and it’s useful to ask who would have been able to get their hands on those recordings.

    The recording DID exist. Whether it STILL exists is a different question.

  29. Maytree:

    So you think JDA’s claim would have made it past a jury?

    What it meant is that it’s not settled as a matter of law (in which case a judge rules on it without further action), but a triable matter of fact. In other words, the facts matter and any decision would rest on the fact finders (aka jury).

    For defamation, it’s all about the facts, which is not something that can be concretely determined at the start of a case.

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