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Why has the stock price of Sotheby's, the art auction house, been down for six days running? One might speculate that it has to do with softening stock markets and home prices worldwide, which are testing the finances even of Sotheby's wealthy clients. If you ask Halsey Minor, the cofounder of CNET turned real-estate investor, it's because Sotheby's is suing him to collect on $16.8 million it says he owes for artworks he bid on at auction, including Edward Hicks's early 19th-century folk-art painting, "The Peaceable Kingdom." In an email conversation, he tells Valleywag, "You should note that Sotheby's stock price has fallen six days in a row. The market seems to be voting." More than that, Minor informs us, this dispute is "about the very nature of media and discourse and getting rid of the middleman." And here we thought it was about a rich guy buying a painting. But perhaps he's right. Minor's emails, middleman removed, make for a better tale than we could ever tell:First, Minor disputes the contention that he advised CNET employees to hold onto their shares when he stepped down as CEO of the Web-content company in 2000:

man, whats the deal with the content? i never told anyone to keep their options, quite the opposite. this seems like the angry people of America convention. I have heard how nasty Valleywag can get and i guess this is just the first time i have been in your scope. why i have no idea. I guess i should make sure i don't get into another lawsuit with sotheby's, the firm whose prior 2 top executives went to sing sing. the only problem i have is since they are the ACTUAL wrong doer, but first filer, i am not sure i'll be able to keep that promise. How about giving them a hard time next time. They have a website so they should be fair game.

I then asked Minor about Sotheby's claim that he told the auction house that the reason he hadn't paid for the paintings was that he had to collect on money owed to him by others, not the conflict of interest issue he brought up later. He also suggests he's still interested in buying the Hicks painting, but at a "big fat discount":

why would they discuss various conversational scripts before they were due the money? what is the purpose? just say i didn't pay them. I will tell everyone i didn't pay them. they are correct. Just so you know if they were to sell the art they still hold they may lose $1 mm to $2 mm which i would be responsible for. The $16 mm lawsuit makes it seem like i torched the art with a blow torch and ran. Usually they immediately go back to the next highest bidder in a situation like this. this time they did not. now lets discuss why i did not pay. they were owed $11.5 mm from a bankrupt jeweler, and were having account receivable problems noted in the WSJ and Portfolio magazine at this time, and they had one painting to get it all back. No Peaceable Kingdom had ever sold for more than $6 mm. that means they owned the painting since it was there only means of getting paid off. its just like a broker showing you houses. he has to let you know if one belongs to him if he was showing it to you. Sotheby's must show a triangle by the lot number in these cases. Many people believe it should be way more evident. I was sold this painting by the American specialist. I thought she was serving as an expert but in fact she was a saleswoman for Sotheby's. The reason they can't sell my art to the next bidder or say I am incapable of paying (notice that has never been said) is because their liability only goes up. Instead we get a story about the dog who ate my money. well he barfed it back up and in 30 days unless there is a big fat discount offered they will be looking at a counter suit coming right back at them. This time the dog ate my money story will be old hat but the facts they hid will be new juicy news. They tried to intimidate me and the story grew far larger than they expected and blew up in there face. I enjoy collecting art but its not my business. It is there business and they rely on people's trust and confidence. Even if they were right I would be creating a reasonable doubt about there business practices. Considering the last CEO and Chairman did jail time I think I would have taken another tact. i would have confessed and tried to work something out. I would have been reasonable then but not now. Now you can call off the Society of Angry People and have the story make sense.

Minor then elaborated:

And Owen you were listening to 2 PR flacks who spent the weekend with a whiteboard strategizing what to say and were never part of ANY of the conversations. You should call them up and ask them if they actually heard — themselves — any of the things they are quoting out of my mouth. Rule 1 of the internet is communication is direct and transparent even if it can get combative. No one hides behind anyone else. As a group that should get the web I am shocked you didn't call the PR team up and ask them if they actually heard these things. why doesn't the ceo speak or some one i was talking to. Owen you guys can do anything you want on your blog but when you perpetuate the PR flack model it irks me. Its not old school its idiotic for spinmasters to comminate instead of real people. The New York Times was more skeptical of the "pr team" then you guys were. To me there is no more basic rule of journalism today then you speak for yourself. And no this is not a dog writing.