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Dave Portnoy Sues Insider for ‘Clickbait Defamation’

Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Months after an Insider report by Julia Black alleged that Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports, had “violent and humiliating” sex with women as young as 19, another article has been published expanding on even more allegations against him. The internet personality, whose public behavior is essentially synonymous with Barstool’s brand of frat-bro misogyny, has been accused in the past of cultivating an environment where sexual harassment and cyberbullying are encouraged, but the original Insider report published in November of 2021 was the first time someone has come forward publicly with allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Portnoy has denied the allegations against him.

On February 2, 2022, Insider published a follow-up report with more allegations against Portnoy, including claims that he filmed multiple women during sex without their consent. Again, Portnoy has denied the allegations, posting a brief Twitter message accusing Insider of running a “hit piece” on him. Now, one week later, he has officially filed suit against Insider for defamation and invasion of privacy.

November 2021: Portnoy is accused of having “violent” sex with multiple women.

One woman, Madison (sources were given pseudonyms due to fear of retaliation from Portnoy’s fans), said she was 20 when she started speaking to the 43-year-old millionaire. She called the visit she made to his Nantucket home a “traumatic experience,” alleging that he started filming her without her consent while she performed oral sex and choked her so hard during sex she couldn’t breathe. Madison told Insider that she felt like “a human sex doll” during their encounter and that she started crying and shouting “Too much!” and “It hurts!” at which point Portnoy told her to “stop running away from me.” She also showed Insider messages she sent to a friend shortly after the trip, where she wrote, “It was so rough I felt like I was being raped … I was literally screaming in pain.”

Another woman in Insider’s report, referred to as Allison, did not call her encounter with Portnoy as sexual assault but described it as “really aggressive” and recalled feeling “very preyed on” after she left. Allison was 19 when she reached out to Portnoy and agreed to meet up at his Nantucket house. Three days after they had sex, she became suicidal and was hospitalized. Though her mother tried to bring legal action against Portnoy, Allison stopped her because, as she told Insider, “I knew he would drag me through the mud.”

Portnoy’s company, Barstool Sports, has a reputation for unapologetically misogynistic, racist commentary, and the man himself is no different. Portnoy has repeatedly defended a slew of racist comments he made about Colin Kaepernick, supported a colleague’s use of blackface, and chanted at least one racial slur in a video that surfaced in 2020. His lengthy history of rape jokes and sexually degrading commentary is just as vile: In 2010, he published a blog post in defense of an Australian man who’d been acquitted of rape due to the fact that his victim was wearing skinny jeans and therefore must have had to help him take them off. “Even though I never condone rape, if you’re a size 6 and you’re wearing skinny jeans you kind of deserve to be raped, right?” Portnoy wrote. In May of this year, he expressed a modicum of regret for … not understanding women’s sizing. “Where I failed,” he told Tucker Carlson, “I thought size 6 was like a size 20.”

Barstool and its fans, who call themselves Stoolies, are also notorious for using aggressive tactics to harass, intimidate, and threaten whoever they consider adversaries of Portnoy and his company — including those who speak out against its toxic culture. Portnoy has personally led scorched-earth campaigns against his critics, many of them female, backed by the “Stoolies,” who openly sexually harass and dox their victims online.

Portnoy posted a video the day the report came out responding to what he called a “hit piece” painting him as a “sexual deviant.” “I know I’ve never done anything weird with a girl ever,” he said, before addressing both the incidents described in the article, purportedly against the advice of his lawyers. After stating that he was able to identify both women based on the details in their stories, he claimed they were still interested in him after the encounters. He claimed that Madison’s “version of events is not true” and “at no point did she ask me to stop.” He also pulled up screenshots of Instagram DMs purported to be from Allison asking him to meet up in the days after she came to his house. “I’m scared now,” he concluded, saying, “woke cancel culture wants to cancel me.”

January 2022: Portnoy issues a public letter from his lawyer, refuting Insider’s reporting.

On January 20, Portnoy posted another video to Twitter, accusing Insider journalist Julia Black of “preparing to drop another make believe hit piece.” The video seems to have been Portnoy’s public response to an email from Black requesting comment on what he described as “a billion new allegations against you about being a sexual deviant, being some sort of pervert, and you should be in jail.” In the five minute video, Portnoy denied all allegations and suggested that Black herself was biased because of her politics.

“I have distinct evidence that what they’re saying and what they felt about me is not true. They wanted to hang out with me long after these ‘allegations’ take place. This time, we sent it to Julia Black,” he said, admitting that he didn’t answer to her original email requesting comment in November. He then added that he wanted “to sue the fuck out of Julia Black, Business Insider, so I want them to publish it knowing they have the evidence.” He then followed up the video with a four page letter from his attorney, Andrew Brettler.

The letter quoted messages supposedly from the women who were accusing Portnoy of misconduct. Notably, he responded to two women who accused him of filming their sexual encounters without consent, writing, “[Portnoy] can say emphatically that he has never filmed any sexual encounter surreptitiously or without the full knowledge and participation of his partners.” The letter also included a blanket denial of any sexual misconduct: “Every sexual encounter that Mr. Portnoy has had — including those described in the Original Story and those referenced in Ms. Black’s January 18 email — have been entirely consensual.”

February 2022: Three more women accuse Portnoy of violent sex and filming them without consent.

Despite Portnoy’s letter, Insider published a second article, by Julia Black and Melkorka Licea, on February 2, detailing new allegations against the Barstool Sports founder. According to the report, three unidentified women not included in the original piece came forward, claiming that Portnoy filmed their sexual encounters without permission. Some of these women also claimed that Portnoy sent them multiple videos of him having sex with other, unidentified women. (In total, Insider says they have spoken to seven women who have accused Portnoy of sexual misconduct.)

One woman, identified as Kayla, recounted a particularly troubling encounter. She claimed that she contacted Portnoy on Instagram in 2017 when she was 21. After some social media exchanges, she eventually went to see him at his apartment in New York, and the two had sex. However, though the sex started as consensual, Kayla said there were a few things she did not consent to explicitly. According to the article, Portnoy chocked her “so hard she couldn’t breathe and that she became frightened.” She also claimed that he had spanked her so forcefully, he left red marks, which were corroborated by one of her friends. “It was just way too much. It was scary,” she told Insider.

Kayla further claimed that she also noticed Portnoy filming her on his iPhone, which she described as “odd and creepy.” Still, she agreed to meet up with him a month later, but she said that this second encounter was much more aggressive than she had imagined. “I always think back to it,” she said, “like, ‘Yes, it was technically consensual sex, but that was not the sex I consented to.’” According to the account, this time Portnoy slapped her across the face, was so aggressive during intercourse that she got a 3-inch rug burn on the small of her back, and, at one point, grabbed her so hard she was later diagnosed with an “assumed fracture” of her rib. She claimed she had never told Portnoy about her rib, and that Portnoy had also filmed this encounter, but “she felt too intimidated to ask him to stop recording.” (Portnoy later admitted to these injuries, but denied that it was not consensual.)

Portnoy’s lawyer previously addressed these allegations, saying that Kayla “joked about how she injured her rib during one of their sexual encounters and boasted to Mr. Portnoy that he ‘still holds [her] title for most aggressive sex.’” (It’s unclear if Portnoy and his attorney actually provided copies of these text messages to Insider, or simply referenced them in the original letter posted in January.)

Another woman, who remained anonymous, claimed that she had consensual sex with Portnoy — until he started filming it. “I felt very anxious and embarrassed,” she told Insider of when she realized he was recording on his iPhone. This same woman also claimed that Portnoy frequently sent her videos of himself having sex with various women, including videos of himself choking a woman. Another anonymous woman said she developed a relationship with Portnoy via Snapchat, where he would also sent her videos of other women. She never went to see him in person.

Along with this new article, Business Insider also published a separate Editor’s Note from Nicholas Carlson defending the pieces, perhaps in anticipation of Portnoy’s inevitable response. “It is wrong to film someone during sex without asking. This article and Insider’s November report have credible allegations from five women who say Portnoy did that. They say realizing he was recording them was humiliating and made them feel powerless and at risk during and after their encounters with him,” the letter reads in part.

Portnoy responds

Shortly after the second article was published, Portnoy tweeted that he would have “a response that proves this is just as ridiculous as the 1st one.” An hour later, he published a lengthy response to both articles, and announced he would be suing Julia Black and Business Insider. “Somebody has to be the guy who says enough is enough. A guy who is willing to burn to make sure his enemies burn with him,” he wrote.

Portnoy also directly responded to Kayla’s allegations, claiming that everything they did was consensual. He also attempted to “debunk” other allegations against him and shared more screenshots. It’s unclear if he sent these screenshots to Business Insider in January or just sent the letter from his attorney.

In his response, Portnoy described the Insider pieces as “a smear job,” writing, “This isn’t journalism. This is a crime. The only thing I’m guilty with is sexting with chicks and thinking they wouldn’t tell their friends about it.” He also included screenshots of alleged messages sent to various reporters and editors at Business Insider, offering to do an interview — but only if he also got to interview them. “You can record video and audio and use it as you please. I will do the same,” he allegedly wrote in an email to Black.

Portnoy sues Insider, Inc., CEO Henry Blodget, editor-in-chief Nicholas Carlson, and writers Julia Black and Melkorka Licea

On Monday, February 7, Portnoy followed through on his threat and filed suit in a United States District Court of Massachusetts. The full complaint is a direct response to the two Insider articles, alleging defamation and invasion of privacy. The complaint, posted to Barstool Sports, claims, among other things, that “Defendants perpetrated the ‘hit pieces’ as part of a preconceived plan to sensationalize a story in order to drive reader traffic to an Internet location where they could then be solicited to subscribe to Defendants’ tabloid-like publication.”

The complaint specifically takes issue with the headline of the first article, “‘I was literally screaming in pain’: Young women say they met Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy for sex and it turned violent and humiliating.” Per the complaint, the use of the headline was “suggesting actual criminal wrongdoing on Mr. Portnoy’s part without further explanation,” which the complaint labels as “clickbait journalism,” thus “giving rise to a claim here for ‘clickbait defamation.’”

In addition to accusing Insider of “clickbait defamation,” the suit also alleges that the publishing of alleged private messages between Portnoy and women who participated in the pieces violated his right to privacy. He is requesting damages and a jury trial.

Dave Portnoy Sues Insider for ‘Clickbait Defamation’