Boston.com retracts claim about racist email from professor

The tale of the Harvard Business School professor who flipped out because he’d been overcharged $4 by a Chinese restaurant took an ugly turn Wednesday night. Boston.com, which first reported the story, posted a follow-up claiming that Ben Edelman had sent a racist email to the restaurant owner — and then replaced the follow-up with an “Editor’s Note,” explaining that the authenticity of the email couldn’t be verified. The Boston Herald has a summary of what went wrong. (Boston.com is part of The Boston Globe’s network of websites.)

The original story about Edelman, by Boston.com’s Hilary Sargent, had gone viral. Who, after all, can resist reading about a privileged Harvard professor threatening legal action against a hard-working business owner because the prices on his website hadn’t been updated for a while? So when Boston.com retracted its explosive allegation (carrying Sargent and Roberto Scalese’s bylines) that Edelman was not just a contentious jerk but a racist as well, Twitter exploded.

So what did Boston.com publish? It wasn’t long before screen grabs started to make their way around the intertubes. J. Alain Ferry posted a copy here. What happened was that after Edelman apologized to Ran Duan, whose family owns the Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline, someone claiming to be Edelman sent another email to the restaurant owner, writing, “You may have won the battle Duan, but at least we can agree your menu is a little less slanty-eyed.” That’s followed up by an apology for accidentally sending what was meant as a private joke, which has the effect of making the mail seem more authentic.

Edelman’s domain name, benedelman.org, is easily found on the Web, and it’s not difficult to send an email using any address you like. The Sichuan Garden website offers an email form that lets you do exactly that. One clue is that all of the legitimate emails Boston.com has posted from Edelman are marked as coming from “Ben Edelman,” whereas the racist email and subsequent apology were from “ben@benedelman.org.”

Despite the retraction, Boston.com as of this moment is still all-in on the rest of its Edelman package. We’ll see what, if anything, comes next.

Update: Kyle Alspach just posted on this at BostInno. He’s got some really interesting technical stuff.

Update II: Here’s a screen image of a tweet Sargent sent out last night that she subsequently took down:

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 9.23.52 AM

7 thoughts on “Boston.com retracts claim about racist email from professor

  1. David Gordon

    What worse is that boston.com did not apologize to Edelman but rather just said it “took the story down.” Hilary Sargent has been every bit as shrill and obsessed in dealing with Edelman as he was with the restauranteur, only now she adds calumny to the mix. boston.com is trying to destroy this man, not just call out bad behavior.

  2. David Gordon

    Also, in addition to the different Sender names, the reporters might have noticed that the second phony email included the British spelling of “realised” — a detail that should have raised a question about whether Edelman was the author.

  3. cynthiastead

    What tickles me about it is that (apparently) Edelman was wrong in the way he stated the law about Treble Damages. He is lucky it was not me he threatened, as I would be filing suit for extortion by now, based upon his demand that he would go public unless his (unjustified) demand for more money than he was entitled to was met.

    And am I the only one who wonders if he is related to my favorite Patriot, Julian Edelman?

  4. peter sullivan

    Interestingly enough, the Herald is reporting today that Hillary Sargent has designed a tee shirt chastising Edelman, that is a available on zazzle.com for $20.95….. You just can’t make this stuff up.

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