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Lakeland Times' owner wins lawsuit against Minocqua Brewing Company owner
Kirk Bangstad is looking at roughly $750,000 in total damages; says jury, judge, and statewide coverage is biased against him
One of the anecdotes included in our coverage of the fiasco up north with Minocqua Brewing Company this past summer revolved around a lawsuit against MBC owner Kirk Bangstad filed by the owner of the Lakeland Times co-owner Gregg Walker.
Bangstad lives on Facebook and posts all manner of political, personal and non-brewery-related content to his business’ Facebook page. He has positioned his brewery as a liberal business, which can be clearly seen from his postings on his Facebook page, to his Super PAC, to his naming of beers after liberal politicians.
But one thing that probably isn’t a great idea is spreading falsehoods about someone perceived to be a political enemy. That’s what a jury of 13 last Friday decided happened when Bangstad posted accusations on Facebook about Walker.
Essentially, Bangstad accused Walker of allowing his brother to die in a 1987 hunting accident, supposedly to increase his inheritance. (According to the plaintiffs, Walker was nowhere near his brother at the time of the accident.) He also accused Walker of abusing his elderly father. And calling him a crook.
Last Friday, the jury decided that Bangstad had indeed defamed Walker, damaging his reputation with his charges on his business’ Facebook page.
The $750,000 total in damages the jury awarded, in fact, were more than Walker asked for.
They’re all against me
Bangstad on another post on social media said the jury — all 13 of them — were out to punish him for his actions. He said the judge didn’t give him a fair shake either. Bangstad’s defense team’s argument is that because Walker is a public figure, the bar is higher for defamation.
Bangstad is right that the bar is higher for public figures. But a higher bar is still a bar — the law doesn’t provide carte blanche permission to say whatever you want about someone, even if they’re a public figure. Essentially, that’s how the jury read the law on Friday.
Bangstad didn’t stop there. In a post on the company’s Facebook page Tuesday, Bangstad took advantage of the situation to sell another themed shirt:
Given the one-sided statewide coverage of our defamation lawsuit yesterday, even from the usually-balanced Wisconsin Public Radio, who didn't even take the time to pick up the phone and interview us before writing about this case, we're just gonna bask in the absurdity of it all and embrace the concept that "all publicity is good publicity."
The post is to promote a black shirt with stylized lettering that reads “DeFame”. You can see an example of it above.
In the comments to another post he also took aim at Rob Mentzer at Wisconsin Public Radio:
Nate Mentzger [sic] never called us for a quote, but he Greg Walker repeatedly. It was a laziest piece of journalism we’ve seen in a long time
Bangstad got Mentzer’s first and last name wrong. But the second part is confusing since there is a missing verb. One can only assume the missing word he mention is “quote”? But Mentzer never quoted Walker. It’s a pretty straightforward piece about the case based on the outcome of the case. He even includes Bangstad’s reaction, which he posted on Facebook after learning the verdict. Obviously Bangstad lost the case. But it’s hard to see where Mentzer was being biased in the piece. 1
Bangstad’s comment came in response to another commenter who said WPR called the verdict “fair and just.” The quote was from Walker’s attorney, not from the publication itself.
Interestingly, while Bangstad complained that newsrooms statewide didn’t call for his side of the story, in another post (a screenshot from a Threads post - someone is still using that?) Bangstad says that Dan Bice from the Journal-Sentinel did ask for an interview. Bangstad accused Bice of slinging mud and refused to talk to him, but said he would talk with another reporter.
In case you’re curious, Bangstad also wasn’t interested in an interview with The Wausonian two years ago when the Wausonian dug up some very unusual things in his Minocqua Brewing Super Pac, including money going from the Super PAC to his business for signs, and money going to a catering company that, as far as this publication could tell, didn’t exist. (The address given was that of a jewelry store in Madison.)
Bangstad responded with a rant-filled, insulting email that essentially said Republicans should be investigated, not him.
Bangstad has even received some pushback from liberals on some of his latest posts.
Any cub reporter covering the crime beat (which I have) gets the fear of God put into them by their editors around ever “convicting someone” in a story when they haven’t been. Why? Because that’s about as clear of a case for defamation as there is. Accusing someone of committing a crime is a pretty clear case of reputation damage.
So if someone is accused of murder, you’d never write “Murderer arrested” you would write “Murder suspect” arrested, or even “suspect in apparent homicide arrested,” etc. We use “allegedly” a lot, and we attribute things to police reports at an almost absurd level. Why? Because every reporter who has ever covered crime has had that talk with an editor - probably a very angry and thundering talk (not that I would know first-hand or anything) about staying on the right side of the defamation laws.
That’s so we don’t end up on the wrong side of a lawsuit like the one Kirk Bangstad just lost. Because they can be costly.
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I promise this isn’t becoming a media criticism publication! But I found the accusations against Mentzer so odd that it seemed important to point out that the piece was pretty straightforward and didn’t contain anything that could really be called biased by a reasonable person.