The most-read story for the past couple of days on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram online site is “Disagreement over texting at movie theater leads to assault charge.”
And the star of the story, who has been dubbed a pussy, dooshbag, whiner, jerk, pansy, and numerous other things in the comment section, is wondering how things got so out of hand.
“I would have never given the interview if I knew it would have blown up like this,” Dale Fout said.
Consumer watchdog columnist Dave Lieber posted the story on Sunday, and when I read it online yesterday morning, readers had left about 50 comments slamming Fout for complaining about whiplash after a a woman sitting behind him either tapped him on the shoulder or pushed him while he was texting at a movie theater.
By Sunday night, there were more than 300 comments. This morning, more than 400. And they keep coming. Readers are furious that a 220-pound man who describes himself as a barrel-chested former athlete would complain about a 136-pound woman telling him to turn off his cellphone during the movie.
Reader comments have been brutal, some even vaguely threatening. Besides calling Fout every name in the book, readers have discouraged people from hiring Fout’s advertising consulting business. Another poster, Joe Guru, revealed Fout’s criminal record from 20 years ago.
Fout didn’t know any of this when I called him today to ask how it felt to be publicly crucified. He’d read the story in the print edition of the paper yesterday morning, chuckled about it, and didn’t pay it much mind afterward. Then, this morning he received an anonymous phone call from an angry man who told him his attitude was deplorable and who vowed to never do business with Fout.
Fout assumed the angry call was prompted by the news article, but he was startled when I told him hundreds of others were saying worse things about him in online comments. He pulled up the web version and began reading the comments while we were still on the phone.
The real wimps, Fout said, are the people who believe everything they read and make anonymous statements online without knowing the real story. If anybody wants to come say some of that stuff to his face and threaten him, they’re welcome, “but when you’re sipping through a straw for a month because your jaw is broke, don’t blame me,” he said. “I take care of business.”
He doubts anybody will confront him face to face.
“If I was in front of them they’d probably pee and crap their drawers,” he said. “It goes to show you what a bunch of idiots there are in the world. They’re idiots because they don’t know the whole story. I’ll tell every one of them to their face they’re an idiot. The woman put her hand on me and pushed me.”
As for the anonymous commenter who revealed his criminal background, Fout said he will recruit a computer expert he knows to figure out the commenter’s personal information. Then Fout will talk to a lawyer about suing the guy. He asked me if I thought he had a case. I told him no, since criminal convictions are public record.
The 54-year-old Fout characterized himself as “outspoken” and “fiery” but said he would never strike a woman and doesn’t seek confrontation with people. Indeed, he was the one who left the theater and complained to the manager about the woman’s “haughty” attitude and about her pushing him. He didn’t confront her or make a scene inside the theater because he didn’t want to bother other patrons. He did the right thing, he said. Besides, he was making one little text and holding his phone up close to his chest so the light wouldn’t bother anyone else. The woman was making a big deal out of nothing.
“I was more offended by her attitude than what she did to me,” he said. “All she had to do was say, ‘Hey, that phone is bothering me,’ and I would have apologized and stepped out [of the theater]. But don’t push me.”
He was also offended by the way Lieber presented the story.
“Obviously the guy slanted the story because in all likelihood he’s a liberal,” Fout said.
Lieber’s story makes it sound as if Fout called police and pressed charges, but Fout said all he wanted was an apology from Godwin.
Fout complained to a manager in the lobby. While doing so, a woman approached him to say she was a physical therapist. She looked at his neck and noticed a knot.
“Before I knew it here comes Emergency Medical Services and police,” Fout said. “The theater management said by law they had to do that.”
Lieber’s story quotes police as saying that Fout desired to prosecute Godwin, which led to the ticket and a $260 fine. Godwin, of Richmond, Virginia, told Lieber that she paid the fine because it would be too expensive to travel back to Texas to fight it in court.
But Fout said he never asked police to press charges.
“The police came up and they’d already escorted her out and wrote her a ticket,” he said. “What am I supposed to do, ask the police not to do it? Are they going to listen to me? No. They’re going to do what they want to do.”
I asked Fout why police would cite the woman if he weren’t pushing for it.
“C’mon, Jeff, you’re not stupid,” he said. “It’s $260 in revenue. They seized an opportunity.”
Fout said he felt bad for the woman after he read in the Star-Telegram that she’d had to pay such a high fine.
Fout said both of his convictions from the late 1980s — one for assault, one for injury to an elderly person — were misunderstandings. He tried to explain them during our 45-minute phone conversation but the stories were complicated, convoluted, and rife with finger pointing and tales of a corrupt legal system. Suffice it to say that he felt wrongly convicted. Both incidents occurred long ago when he was in his 20s and was too poor to afford an attorney and therefore got railroaded, he said.
I found Fout to be a blowhard, condescending at times, and difficult to like. On the other hand, he doesn’t seem to edit his thoughts before speaking, which is always refreshing to an interviewer.
Overall, my opinion of Fout is he’s one wacky dude. Hopefully I don’t have to eat hamburgers through a straw for saying so.
On the other hand, Godwin paid the fine rather than return to Texas to contest her ticket. If you pay the fine and, in effect, admit guilt, then don’t complain about being wronged. It’s inconvenient to return to Texas for a court date, but it beats being punished for something you feel you didn’t do. ( I once fought a jaywalking ticket for eight years because I refused to pay a fine for something I didn’t do. I eventually got my day in court and the ticket was dismissed. Lieber wrote about it in one of his books, “Watchdog Nation.”)