In the last few weeks, Ford Motor Co. has been heavy-handed in trying to quash a young fellow who almost inadvertently got into the publishing business.
I'm always edgy when someone starts to mess around with First Amendment rights. It gets my attention right away.
Anyway, Ford felt pushed too much by the Ford secrets that Robert Lane was publishing on his Web site, and Ford pushed back. This is a mosquito and an elephant. The company's cadre of lawyers got the courts to prevent him from publishing Ford information on his Web site. Ford even prompted his Web site provider (the Web equivalent of our printer) to pull the plug on Lane's blueovalnews.com - until the federal court realized the error of Ford's ways.
Lane, a Ford fan and a nursing student, has discovered that challenging Ford is not to be done lightly. Ford argued that his publishing of secrets might have been OK if he hadn't posted them verbatim. Then Ford asked the court to restrain Lane from publishing things in the future.
Well, Ford hasn't seen anything yet.
The Internet is spawning all sorts of publishers who will have all sorts of sources. Like Robert Lane, many of those publishers will have little or no journalism training. They'll put information on their sites that will make Ford smile. And once in a while, someone will publish something that will put everyone at Ford in a tizzy. Ford will have a tough time policing every Web site that may someday publish information about Ford.
In the coming years, Ford, General Motors, DaimlerChrysler and everyone else will have to lighten up.
Now, I don't know Robert Lane or his motives. He's not likely to become the Matt Drudge for Ford. But Drudge, the Web gossip, gave the White House fits, and Mr. Lane has done the same for Ford.
Sure, all these new publishers will have to learn a lot more about responsibility and journalism if they want to stay in business. At the same time, business has to accept that there will be a lot more places for information to be published.
Ford must look at why its employees are leaking the information in the first place. Do Ford's own employees think that Ford is not dealing with them or their customers in an even-handed manner?
Ford was wrong. And the federal court refused Ford's request for prior restraint on Lane's publishing. Let's hope Ford learned its lesson. The same for Mr. Lane.