56

Correction: Regarding an Erroneous Allegation in ‘Richard Stallman’s Disgrace’

When I wrote “Richard Stallman’s Disgrace”, I included the following anecdote from a 2011 email from a DF reader:

I worked 10 years ago at VA Linux which had Richard Stallman on its board of directors. You might have heard that Stallman applied his open source ideas to his publicly open marriage as well. The problem was that he was more than open. He made overt sexual advances to women at work. One young woman who worked next to me was so upset from his multiple advances that she took it to senior management. She was able to deal with the problem without taking the issue outside the company. I don’t know the details, but she was given advanced warning anytime Stallman was headed over so that she could leave. He was a creep and women at the company knew to stay away.

And he smelled horrible.

Zed Shaw, among several people on Twitter, realized this rang untrue in several regards:

This sexual harassment report about Richard Stallman is actually about Eric S. Raymond:

  1. Stallman never worked for VA Linux, ESR did.
  2. Stallman has never been married, ESR was.
  3. Stallman would not run an “open source” marriage, ESR did famously.

I believe what happened is people constantly refer to the two men with acronyms “RMS” and “ESR”. The reporter then misidentified one “TLA Old Nerd” for another “TLA Old Nerd” and for nearly a decade has been telling people Stallman harassed her when it was Eric S. Raymond.

As soon as I read this, I was nearly certain my email correspondent had made exactly this mistake, conflating Stallman with Raymond, and that I had passed the error along. I sincerely and deeply regret the error. I should have known Stallman would never have worked with VA Linux (he’d have insisted upon it being named “VA GNU/Linux”, and likely would have had no interest in what was a very commercial enterprise no matter what its name) and also should have remembered that Stallman was never married.

I conferred with my source for the anecdote, and he confirmed it, sending the following by email:

OMG, I was referring to the guy on our board, so it must have been Eric Raymond. I’m so sorry. I did conflate them. I guess I assumed there were not two creepy guys talking about free and open software.

I’m positive it was Eric Raymond. In retrospect, I don’t know for sure if he smelled or if the woman I worked with and who was propositioned by him merely found him disgusting.

To be clear, my source is a man, and it was he who conflated Raymond (“ESR”) with Stallman (“RMS”). His former colleague at VA Linux, the woman who was propositioned by Raymond, surely remembers it clearly.

I have updated the original article to remove the anecdote quoted above, and to point to this correction. My source for the anecdote made an honest error — as Shaw suggests conflating two well-known “TLA Old Nerds”. It was my fault and mine alone for publishing it. Again, I regret the mistake, and apologize for it.