As many of my readers know, I’ll never win a popularity contest among Florida car dealers, much less ever get elected as an officer of the FADA [Florida Automobile Dealers Association]. Some of you may have read how certain car dealers attempted to band together in such a fashion as to exert economic harm on my business. This failed and so will the latest attempt at making me go away, a series of business and personal lawsuits by Ed Morse.
For those who aren’t regular readers of my blog and this column, Ed Morse Honda ran a radio commercial last year accusing me of deceiving my customers. In the lawsuit he said that I “hid my dealer fee” in the car prices that I quoted to my customers. There are few things in my life more precious to me than my reputation. This attack on my integrity left me no choice but to sue Ed Morse Honda for slander and violation of the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. My opinion is that Ed Morse got it exactly backwards as to who is deceiving their customers. I include all of my profits and costs in the prices that I give my customers. Ed Morse Honda, on the other hand, does not. Like most other car dealerships on Florida, if you ask the salesman for the price of the car in person, on the phone, or over the Internet you will get a price excluding a “dealer fee”, “doc fee, “dealer prep” or an extra charge by some other creative name.
The radio commercial he ran obviously didn’t make me back off on what I believe to be right. His countersuit against my company didn’t work either. Now, he has filed two personal lawsuits against me for defaming Ed Morse Honda and his lawyers in my blog. You can access my blog by clicking on www.EarlStewartToyota.com. The specific articles that I have been sued about are “Ed, You Went Too Far This Time”, “Why My Lawsuit Against Ed Morse Honda Is Important To You”, and “Ed Morse Sues Earl Stewart for Defamation”. I would like to hear back from you if you think that I wrote something that was not true.
Interestingly, I wrote another column for my blog and the Hometown News recently about my conversations during a lunch I attended in Washington D.C. with Bob Woodward, the Pulitzer prize journalists for the Washington Post. You can read this by clicking on http://oncars.blogspot.com/2009/04/conversation-with-bob-woodward-about.html. The main point I wanted to make when I wrote this was that Bob Woodward told me and the 8 other Toyota dealers at this luncheon that he believed the biggest threat to the USA and the World was that “he fears that the media is failing to fulfill its vital role to report all of the news and their opinions fearlessly, completely, honestly, and ethically.”
Think about the courage it took for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to break the Watergate exposé of corruption in the Nixon administration. It was not only the courage of these two young reporters but the courage of the Washington Post editor, Ben Bradley, and the owner, Katherine Graham. There are few rights more precious than our first amendment rights which expressly prohibits the United States Congress from making laws "respecting an establishment of religion or that prohibit the free exercise of religion, infringe the freedom of speech, infringe the freedom of the press, limit the right to peaceably assemble, or limit the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
In the past 15 years the Internet has become a very powerful means of freedom of thought and opinion, gradually replacing newspapers. Newspapers have come under great pressure, initially from the electronic media, then the Internet, and finally this severest of all recessions. Today, it’s a lot more difficult for a newspaper editor or publisher to stand up like Ben Bradley and Katherine Graham did and go head to head with the executive branch of the United States Government. Threats of lawsuits and threats of advertisers are far more fearful when you are struggling to keep your newspaper afloat.
Even though I don’t get paid for it, I consider myself a journalist as well as a car dealer. I have written my blog, a weekly column in the Hometown News, and hosted a weekly talk-show on Seaview AM 960 [9-10 am every Saturday; stream it online at www.SeaviewAM960.com] for several years. I frequently speak to groups at public libraries, schools, civic clubs, and condo associations. I’m even looking for a publisher for my book which would be based on the hundreds of blog articles and Hometown News articles I’ve written over the years. Because I derive my income from my dealership and don’t accept pay for my writing, public speaking, or radio shows, I feel I have even more credibility and freedom from economic influences.
No lawsuits will ever stop me from freely expressing my opinion, especially when it comes to doing right by Florida car-buyers. I speak the truth, not only as I see it, but as the vast majority of car buyers see it. They have listened to and put their faith in me. Anytime I’m out in public, shopping, eating at a restaurant, pumping gas, or just walking down the street, people come up to me and thank me for spreading my message. They have also responded by entrusting me with their car purchases, making me the largest volume car dealership in Palm Beach County. I was honored by Toyota to be one of just 12 dealerships in the USA ranked by volume and customer satisfaction.
However, I do have a way that Ed Morse [and any other car dealer who charges a dealer fee] can stop me. I want an honest, acceptable answer to this simple question. “Why don’t you include your dealer fee in the price you quote your customers?” I won’t be the judge of whether your answer is honest and acceptable; your customers will. A third-party, independently selected research firm will survey a randomly selected, statistically significant number of your customers. They will judge whether your answer to my question is honest and acceptable. If a majority of your customers vote for you, I will withdraw my lawsuit, publically apologize to you, and donate $100,000 to your favorite charity. If your customers don’t agree that your reply was honest and acceptable, I will continue my lawsuit and you must consent to allow me to publically reveal the results of the survey.