The sportswriter who was sued for access to his Twitter account has countersued BH Media, parent company of The Roanoke Times, alleging defamation in its handling of the case.
Andy Bitter, former Virginia Tech football writer for The Roanoke Times, is asking for damages upward of $150,000 in the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Roanoke.
In the initial lawsuit, BH Media requested an injunction demanding that Bitter turn over access to his Twitter account, which uses the handle @AndyBitterVT, and its more than 27,000 followers, because, BH Media claims, the account was the property of the company. Bitter has continued to use the account since joining The Athletic, a website that features coverage of sports teams. (The Richmond Times-Dispatch is also owned by BH Media.)
Bitter’s lawyer, J. Benjamin Rottenborn of Woods Rogers in Roanoke, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Thursday. BH Media’s legal counsel, Richmond-based Williams Mullen, declined comment when reached Thursday. Bitter has previously declined comment on all matters related to the lawsuit.
The Twitter account was created by Kyle Tucker when Tucker covered Virginia Tech for The Virginian-Pilot and The Roanoke Times, which were owned by Landmark Communications at the time.
Tucker left the company in 2011, and Bitter took over the Twitter account the same year. The Roanoke Times was purchased by BH Media in 2013. The lawsuit states that Bitter chose to become a BH Media employee on Jan. 1, 2014.
BH Media claimed in its initial lawsuit that the account is the property of the company, and exists as an advertising vehicle for its coverage of Virginia Tech football. In the initial suit, BH Media estimated that it would take $150,000 and seven years (the length of time Bitter was with the paper) to hire somebody to create a similar list of potential customers via a Twitter account.
The defamation allegation revolves around an article published in The Roanoke Times shortly after BH Media’s initial lawsuit was filed.
In that article, reporter Jeff Sturgeon wrote of the transfer from Tucker to Bitter: “The company gave Bitter the login for the Twitter account, and Bitter alone has had access to it since then, the suit said.”
Thursday’s filing by Bitter’s legal team indicated that he received access to the account from an email sent from Tucker’s personal email address to Bitter’s personal email address, not from the company.
“By falsely stating that ‘the company’ provided Bitter with the login for the Account in the Article, an allegation that does not appear in the Complaint or TRO motion, the article was not a fair report of their contents,” the filing said.
It continued: “Whether Bitter received the Account directly from the Pilot or the Roanoke Times instead of from Tucker individually is important to Bitter’s reputation. If an employee is given something directly by their employer but then refuses to return it, an observer may reasonably infer that the employee is dishonest, disloyal, and lacks integrity. This is particularly damaging to a reporter, whose stock in trade is often credibility, discretion, and the ability to report things accurately.”
The countersuit also alleges that Tucker was contacted by Roanoke Times Executive Editor Lawrence McConnell, asking him to sign a sworn statement regarding the account.
According to the suit, Tucker responded that “if he were to sign such a statement, it would be a lie.”
Bitter also requested a jury trial. The judge in the case has yet to rule on the injunction — Thursday was Bitter’s deadline to respond.