The Perils of Defamation Action

People mistakenly think that when you sue someone for defamation that the case is run like it is for criminal cases. They aren’t, in fact they are a suckers trap.

You see what happens is the plaintiff gets to say they think they have been defamed and where…after that the case is handed to the defendants to explain as fulsomely as possible why it is they think what they think about the plaintiff. The plaintiffs invariably lose, or if they do win are hopelessly destroyed by the close examination of every conceivable honest held belief as to why the defendant believes what they have said to be true.

Take  Michael Mann…the inventor of the hockey stick fraud in climate science,  and his ill-conceived defamation action against Mark Steyn and national Review:

Meet the plaintiff: Penn State climatologist Michael Mann.

Meet the defendants: writers Mark Steyn, Rand Simberg, National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Professor Mann claims to have been defamed by the defendants for attacking his work and making fun of him after embarrassing emails were released to the public in the scandal known as “Climategate.”

The professor found this sentence written by Steyn to be particularly offensive:

“Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science that could have dire economic consequences for the nation and planet.”
Pretty good, huh?

But Professor Mann found it not the least bit amusing. He demanded that Steyn’s snappy critique be removed from the NRO website and when it wasn’t, he sued.

I say, Professor Mann is not the Jerry Sandusky of climate science. I say he is the Jerry Falwell.

A few decades ago, it was the Falwell who sued Hustler magazine and its owner Larry Flynt for publishing a satirical ad claiming that Falwell was an alcoholic and the first time he had sex it was in an outhouse with his own mother.

Like Professor Mann, Rev. Falwell was not amused either. He sued Flynt for emotional distress and he actually won $150,000. But the Supreme Court overturned the award, citing Hustler’s First Amendment right to make gross fun of a public figure.

For defending his free speech rights all the way to the Supreme Court, Flynt was hailed a great First Amendment defender. An Oscar-winning film (“The People vs. Larry Flynt”) was made about his life, portraying the pornographer Flynt as a hero, and Falwell as a sanctimonious and thin-skinned loser.

And that is what I expect will be the outcome in this case, though a movie being made about it seems unlikely.

Of course on the way through the media becomes involved, stories are written, that which the plaintiff has fought to stay out of the limelight is dragged even more into the spotlight, and at the end of the day everything is published and made public.

The only other reason to pursue cases like this is to try to financially damage the defendant on the way through…but again that is fraught with risk…the defendant may well be award costs and damages of his own to pursue at his leisure…and if the case is particularly ill-conceived then the plaintiff risks being declared a vexatious litigant…especially if they have a history of foolhardy and losing actions.

Still fools like Michael Mann do charge in…


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  • peterwn

    But it is still not easy for a person on the receiving end of a defamation lawsuit especially in the UK – see the Chiropractors v Singh case:

    Simon Singh copped a ‘slam dunk’ defeat initially (the judge ruled he had stated ‘fact’ not ‘opinion’) but prevailed in the appeal court (it took a heck of an effort to get leave to appeal) but it took two years out of his life and left him out of pocket by a five figure sum. Fortunately he had a reasonable ‘war chest’ to fight the case from book royalties and was fortified with the enormous public support he received.

    A NBR writer some years ago said it still cost about $500 to dispatch a rubbish defamation suit where papers were served.

    Of course the British case of ‘ Arkell v. Pressdram (1971)’ is relevant here – see my comment in:

    and see:

  • nailem

    What ended up happening with that Blomfield claim against you? Looking forward to that one coming out.

  • cows4me

    What the fanatical fruitcakes of the climate change pushers fear most is ridicule. These idiots take themselves very seriously to make fun of them is like publishing cartoons of Mohammad , great offense is taken. Fucking good job if you ask me, more power to Steyn.