The Clamor over Clamor
Quarterly magazine threatened with legal action over an upcoming series.
Los Angeles-based American Apparel has threatened to take legal action against activist quarterly Clamor magazine, for a series of stories written about the clothing company for the fall 2006 issue.
"American Apparel Exposed" spans 10 pages in the magazine set to hit newsstands Sept. 1. It includes three articles, one photo essay and a series of mock-American Apparel advertisements. The spread addresses ongoing issues with employee management, the company’s controversial ads and sexual harassment allegations against founder and CEO Dov Charney.
American Apparel found out about the upcoming series after Clamor posted the article about it on its Web site.
In an e-mail addressed to the magazine’s editor Mariana Ruiz and its co-publisher and founder Jen Angel, American Apparel media relations director Cynthia Semon requested the magazine print a retraction regarding certain facts written in the story, or the company would take legal action against the magazine.
"If the article is not immediately removed online, along with a retraction and an [sic] public apology posted online and published appropriately, we will be forced to seek legal action in light of such gross, blatant, negligent and irresponsible journalism," Semon wrote in the e-mail, a copy of which was provided to Folio:.
The magazine has no intentions of retracting the story, according to Angel. "The material we printed is nothing ground-breaking‑‑a simple search of the Internet will find a lot of supporting materials," she says. "What the real issue is now is we are discovering a pattern of American Apparel using similar tactics against other media outlets. Those other outlets have only talked to us off the record for fear of reprisal from American Apparel, but we are encouraging them to come forward."
"The purpose of printing this story was to expose American Apparel’s co-optation of progressive consumerism," says Angel. "We decided to print such a large section because as we looked at the issue, we just started finding more and more material."
But Semon says American Apparel takes issue with the story for two reasons, the first being the manner in which she was contacted by Clamor for a comment regarding the allegations against the company and Dov Charney. "As a journalist, by bare minimum you should fact check and allow a response regarding the subject you are writing about," she says. According to Semon, no journalist from Clamor visited the American Apparel facilities to investigate the story.
Dez Williams, a contributing editor for the series, did attempt to contact Semon. The initial contact came in a three sentence e-mail requesting "input from HR as to how (if at all) employees are advised of the un-conventional work environment in American Apparel’s retail stores." The e-mail, however, came from an unfamiliar Yahoo e-mail account and was signed simply "Clamor Magazine." Semon looked into the query, asking for more information and sufficient contact information, to which she received a similarly reticent e-mail, which this time was signed "Dez."
Semon says she was unsure if the e-mail was a prank or written by a legitimate journalist. She says she provided her contact information and awaited a response. "In the initial e-mail he said he was a writer for the magazine, but there is no Dez listed as a staff writer online and I didn’t have a last name to do a Google search," she says.
Semon says American Apparel’s second problem with the series is not with its content, but how it is presented. "Prior to my (last) e-mail I made it amply clear that it is a journalist’s right to write their opinions with regards to our products and advertising," says Semon. "They would not be the first publication or the last to have a negative opinion piece, however the article is not an opinion piece; it is termed as a special investigative section."
Angel says Williams contacted Semon by both phone and via e-mail, to which Semon was unresponsive. "It would not be a wise choice for American Apparel to sue us; it would generate a lot of very negative publicity," says Angel.
Since the controversy began last week, Clamor has recognized one discrepancy in the piece and has issued an advance correction on their Web site. The story reported a sexual harassment case filed by sales manager Mary Nelson, against Dov Charney as withdrawn. However, the Nelson suit is still pending, which the magazine notes in the correction.
Semon says this was one of many inaccuracies in the series, and says Nelson’s title is still incorrect, saying that she was a sales rep, rather than a sales manager. "They failed to contact the company to check information," says Semon. "They failed to even fact check public documents."
Coincidentally, official Clamor T-shirts are American Apparel-made. Angel says the relationship will soon come to an end. "We note in our letter from the editors that we have printed on American Apparel shirts in the past but will no longer be doing so," she says.