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Tort Reform!

Juan Cole gets sued by MEMRI. As Abu Aardvark patiently explains, Cole seems to be in the right on the key point of factual dispute, though I'm willing to believe he's gone too far in intimating that MEMRI is some kind of front for the Israeli government. More to the point, MEMRI is clearly seeking to use the legal system to silence people who disagree with its politics. As Henry Farrell writes the target here is probably not Professor Cole, but rather the University of Michigan. MEMRI's goal seems to be getting academic institutions to strongly discourage their employees from speaking out on controversial issues related to US and Israeli policies. Since academics in this field are overwhelmingly critical of US and Israeli policies, achieving this goal (or, rather, coming closer to achieving it, I know that already many academics are hesitant to offer their views) would be a significant advance toward continuing the rightwing skew of the public debate on these topics.

November 24, 2004 | Permalink

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» Getting Carried Away from The American Mind
MEMRI has threatened legal action against history professor and weblogger Juan Cole. I don't read Cole's weblog, but I assume... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 24, 2004 3:16:57 PM

» Anti Israeli College Professors Being Repressed? from fredschoeneman.com
Matthew Yglesias thinks that anti-israeli, pro-Arab college professors are being repressed, and are afraid to say what the really think from fear of legal action: MEMRI's goal seems to be getting academic institutions to strongly discourage their emplo... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 24, 2004 5:25:16 PM

Comments

Memri threatened to sue, they didn't actually sue.

Posted by: niucons | Nov 24, 2004 2:37:32 PM

How is MEMRI's threat to sue over libellous statements an attempt to silence all of its critics? Cole said, for example, that MEMRI gets $60 million (!) in funding, intimating that it is a branch of the Israeli government. It is not.

If Cole is a crybaby, wanting impunity to libel an institution just because it is insufficiently anti-Israel, he won't find a lot of support for his position.

Then again, so many anti-Israel people claim harassment when neither law nor equity are on their side, and Cole is no exception.

I hope they do sue him, and win big.

By the way, do you have any facts to back up your claim that MEMRI is on a tear to silence all of those who disagree with it? If you get a letter like the one they sent to Cole, asking you to back up your claim or withdraw it, will that also be unfair?

Posted by: Piranha | Nov 24, 2004 2:42:53 PM

Talk about cry-baby tactics. Academia is so leftist, anti-Israeli, anti-American skewed that it will take years to reach even an arguable level of intellectual diversity. Columbia, for example, is jihad central.

Posted by: Warthog | Nov 24, 2004 2:55:43 PM

Evidently MEMRI thinks little of first making its case in a court of public opinion before resorting to the threat of a lawsuit. FYI, the University of Michigan is more than capable of lawyering up itself, and does have an institutional interest in not being harassed over this sort of thing.

Posted by: David W. | Nov 24, 2004 2:57:45 PM

True, but these stories are coming to light. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Still, it is amusing to see all of the Dr. Evils at Columbia whine about being persecuted because their prejudices and their intimidating comments are being made public.

You probably saw how the whole field of Near East Studies got into a snit when Campus Watch was formed to track the biases expressed by the luminaries in the field. Man, you'd think the Gestapo was knocking on their door!

Posted by: Piranha | Nov 24, 2004 2:59:11 PM

I don't know where MEMRI intends to sue, but the libel case doesn't stand a chance in any United States court, and I doubt that an Israeli court could assert personal jurisdiction over Cole, whatever its law of libel might be.
Unless Israeli law is VERY weird on the subject, there's no basis for going after the University of Michigan, even if Cole did libel MEMRI.
I'm not now in private practice, but if MEMRI actually sues Cole in a U.S. court, I might be tempted to open up a shop of my own -- but, wait, I can't solicit clients.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | Nov 24, 2004 2:59:29 PM

Glad to see the substantive posts were made early.

Posted by: SavageView | Nov 24, 2004 2:59:36 PM

CJ Colluci, why do you think that MEMRI wouldn't be able to prosecute its libel suit successfully? They have standing, they are a real party in interest, and there were factual misrepresentations made.

Whether they could successfully sue the University of Michigan is an issue, but I see no barrier to a successful suit against Cole.

Posted by: Piranha | Nov 24, 2004 3:02:13 PM

David W., why should MEMRI, a private organization that depends on private funding, have to squander its resources in a PR campaign in a foreign country (the US) when it has such an elegant, precise and simple legal solution at its fingertips?

I wish them success and hope that they proceed with the suit in the absence of Cole's recanting of his false statements -- or his releasing information that proves them true (smirk).

Posted by: Piranha | Nov 24, 2004 3:06:01 PM

I exempt CJC from my sarcasm, as his post is substantive and correct.

Posted by: SavageView | Nov 24, 2004 3:06:31 PM

CJ Colluci, why do you think that MEMRI wouldn't be able to prosecute its libel suit successfully? They have standing, they are a real party in interest, and there were factual misrepresentations made.

Well, aside from the fact that the "factual misrepresentations" are in dispute, there are other elements required for a libel case to succeed. IIRC, there must be demonstrable actual damages in most cases, to start with, and the "factual misrepresentation" must be knowingly false or with reckless disregard for the truth.


Posted by: cmdicely | Nov 24, 2004 3:12:49 PM

"David W., why should MEMRI, a private organization that depends on private funding, have to squander its resources in a PR campaign in a foreign country (the US) when it has such an elegant, precise and simple legal solution at its fingertips?"

As if PR campaigns are more expensive than fully prosecuted lawsuits.

Posted by: SavageView | Nov 24, 2004 3:14:33 PM

It's a classic k00ksuit threat. 'Shut up or we'll sue'. It's actually funny in its general display of dicklessness.

Having been sued under such circumstances, I can say that not much will come of it.

ash
['Didn't even have to spend a dime. The guy sued me in California state court. Dork.']

Posted by: ash | Nov 24, 2004 3:15:33 PM

Apologies to Piranha and Warthog for Mr. Cole's oppressive behavior towards you both and his impolite critiques of MRMRI. Granted these are serious issues, but what's it with this word "crybaby" Piranha and Warthog? What's the problem with Cole defending himself? You hope he gets sued and loses. Sweet. Sounds like fun. Let the college campuses burn! The ability of conservatives to beat the victim drum longer and louder than all others in the room never ceases to amaze.

Posted by: fnook | Nov 24, 2004 3:16:07 PM

cmdicely,

The libel suit, if it proceeds, will determine the truth or falsity of the allegedly libelous/slanderous statements. If they are found not false, then Cole will win.

Damages are a separate issue. I would think that a group that is dedicated to sharing published Arabic-language extermism with the non-Arabic-speaking western public could successfully argue that it is harmed by allegations that it selectively chooses articles, that it misquotes those that it selects, that it is concealing its alleged ties to the Israeli government and its leading political party, the Likud, and that it is receiving some $60 million in secret funding. If someone called you a CIA front alleged that you got millions in hidden funds to advance their interests, you probably could sue for libel as well, even if you could not show that you suffered financially.

Finally, although I am not 100% certain on this subject, and libel laws do vary from state to state, I believe that you are articulating the standard for proving libel against a public figure. It is not at all clear, at least to me, that Cole would successfully be able to show that MEMRI is such a public figure. Anyway, Cole's failure to withdraw his allegedly libelous statements and apologize would be pretty strong evidence of his actual malice, and this sort of evidence has been introduced in other libel cases in the past.

Posted by: Piranha | Nov 24, 2004 3:19:58 PM

"Anyway, Cole's failure to withdraw his allegedly libelous statements and apologize would be pretty strong evidence of his actual malice, and this sort of evidence has been introduced in other libel cases in the past."

I'm no lawyer, but that sounds patently ridiculous to me. Any lawyers have a comment?

Posted by: o | Nov 24, 2004 3:25:22 PM

It is not at all clear, at least to me, that Cole would successfully be able to show that MEMRI is such a public figure.

A non-profit corporation with a website and a public presence, which frequently seeks (or, if you want to be most charitable, allows itself) to be cited in media accounts?

I don't think that would be too hard to show.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Nov 24, 2004 3:29:44 PM

Piranha is obviously a troll with little legal understanding.

Posted by: Baracuda | Nov 24, 2004 3:37:23 PM

Piranha is lost deep in a fruitless libel sea such that Piranha can no longer see the distant shores of the First Amendment.

Posted by: fnook | Nov 24, 2004 3:39:11 PM

Well, the libel suit is ridiculous, of course, but if he indeed made a factual mistake (with $60 million or whatever) then, I think, he should apologize. OTOH, since they've chosen bullying instead of simply asking for correction, then maybe he shouldn't.

Posted by: abb1 | Nov 24, 2004 3:42:39 PM

But as Cole points out, MEMRI is a *global* organisation. Is $60m that hard to believe? And surely if, as Colonel Mustard says, that figure is wrong why doesn't he prove it by disclosing how much they make?

I don't believe Cole suggested it was a Likud front. Just that it's very sympathetic to its goals. Kind of like the AEI really...

Posted by: ihateemo | Nov 24, 2004 3:48:44 PM

Actually, I am actively licensed to practice law, and I received my degree in 1984. I also have a masters degree in journalism.

Why do you think that all responsible newspapers, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and on and on have corrections columns? Why do you think that they make corrections?

Anyone in the business of journalism will tell you that a key reason for making corrections is to eliminate the "malice" prong of the test. Of course, building a relationship of trust with its readers is a factor as well, but that doesn't translate into a risk assessment.

Look up the law yourself if you don't believe me.

Posted by: Piranha | Nov 24, 2004 3:55:21 PM

Here's a link to an article that, while not entirely on point, is still of interest:

http://ojr.org/ojr/law/1087423868.php

Posted by: Piranha | Nov 24, 2004 3:59:27 PM

Piranha is missing a rather elementary point: not all factual allegations are libelous *even if false.* Saying "MEMRI gets $60 million in funding" may be true or false but in any event it is not defamation, for the simple reason that there is nothing particularly *wrong* about being funded at any particular level. (Nor would it necessarily follow that if they were funded to that amount, it could only be by the Israeli government.)

If someone called me a billionaire they would be wrong but they wouldn't be libeling me...

Posted by: David T | Nov 24, 2004 4:04:49 PM

Piranha, you are full of it. The nasty letter from MEMRI reads like something that is, at best, a toothless cease-and-desist order and at worst something that might pass muster to get a hearing in a libel court like England or Singapore.

You seem to have a crazy vendetta against Cole, yourself, and that sort of detracts from your ability to reason about this.

Posted by: Constantine | Nov 24, 2004 4:06:20 PM

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