Silenced by the Prodigy computer bulletin board network after his yearlong, electronic feud with radio shock-jock Howard Stern and his followers, Ira Zimmerman is taking the company to court.
Zimmerman, advocacy chairman of the National Stutterers Project, was informed by Prodigy that his fight with Stern for stutterers’ dignity had degenerated into personal attacks between him and Stern’s rabid followers.
“Despite numerous warnings, you continue to badger and bicker with other members, preventing them from enjoying the board,” Gregg Hartnett, the company’s arts bulletin-board leader, told Zimmerman in a Sept. 9 computer message. “As a result, your board privileges will now be suspended indefinitely.”
Zimmerman responded Tuesday by filing a small-claims suit in Municipal Court in Laguna Hills, demanding Prodigy pay him $1,099.50--the one-month cost he says he’d have to pay to switch to another bulletin board service. But besides the money, Zimmerman says he just wants to know why Prodigy banned him from the board.
“I want to get them into the court,” the San Jan Capistrano resident said. “Because I can’t get them to show me the specific notes that led them to suspend me.”
A hearing has been set for Nov. 29.
Brian Ek, a Prodigy spokesman, said Wednesday that he wasn’t aware of the suit and would not comment on Zimmerman’s allegations. But in general, Ek said, Prodigy screens out bulletin board communications that do not maintain some civility: “We do not allow personal attacks.”
Zimmerman, a stutterer, has been after Stern ever since the controversial New York radio personality added a field reporter called “Stuttering John” to his show several years ago. (Stern’s morning show is carried in Los Angeles on KLSX-FM.)
“Basically, I despise Howard Stern’s glorification of the rude behavior of making fun of stutterers,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve stuttered 49 years, ever since I was a child of 4. I’ve had to put up with bullies like Howard Stern all my life.”
In the last year, Zimmerman took his battle onto the Prodigy bulletin board, where a cadre of Stern groupies regularly discuss their leader’s exploits.
Prodigy warned Zimmerman several times this year that it was tired of his sparring matches with Stern’s followers. In the final warning Aug. 12, bulletin board leader Hartnett said his patience was wearing thin:
“Ira, I’ve taken down a number of notes TO and FROM you. Please knock it off. There’s no room here for members whose purpose is to ‘annoy’ other members. This is your LAST warning.”
Zimmerman said he did not hear from Prodigy again until the Sept. 9 suspension notice.
Stern could not be reached for comment Wednesday. However, after Zimmerman’s Prodigy problems became public in June, Stern counseled his followers to redirect their energies:
“I say get the hell off of Prodigy and get to work on something constructive, like phony phone calls,” Stern said in a July 2 broadcast.
Apparently, they didn’t listen.
In a Sept. 14 bulletin board message, Orange County Stern disciple Randall Lieber eulogized “our late, departed friend.”
"(Zimmerman) was a man who thought he had a mission, and although he was wrong, he never stopped writing his convoluted message,” Lieber said. “He was a man who could take a shot. How many of us could field 10 to 20 insulting notes a day and continue the mission for over a year.”
Yet, despite his kind words, Lieber could not restrain himself from declaring Zimmerman’s suspension “our GLORIOUS VICTORY!”
Zimmerman laughed when asked about Lieber’s note.
“Indeed, a lot of this was done with a lot of humor,” Zimmerman said. “It was just that Prodigy never got it.”