by John B. Williams
(Mr. Williams represents Michael Mann in this lawsuit.)
Feb. 9, 2017
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The First Amendment sky is not falling as a result of the recent decision of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals permitting climatologist Michael Mann’s case to proceed against the National Review Online, despite the claims of NRO’s attorneys Michael A. Carvin and Anthony Dick in “A Libel Suit Threatens Catastrophe for the Climate of Public Debate” (op-ed, Feb. 6). In this litigation, Dr. Mann is challenging NRO’s accusations that he engaged in scientific fraud when he published his “hockey stick” graph demonstrating the considerable rise in the earth’s temperatures. Messrs. Carvin and Dick assert that this decision is catastrophic for public debate because their client was simply "questioning" Dr. Mann's work and "voicing one's opinion."
To the contrary, NRO's efforts to characterize its false accusations of fraud as some sort of contribution to public debate ignores the fundamental difference between genuine opinion and knowing or reckless falsehoods. Protected opinion has its limits; fake news doesn't qualify. This has been the law for decades, and in a delightfully ironic twist the court repeatedly cited a 1976 defamation case successfully pursued on this very ground by none other than William F. Buckley -- the founder of National Review. The Buckley decision drew the sharp distinction between protected opinion and knowing falsehoods. The Mann v. NRO decision does nothing different; the First Amendment remains alive and well and undisturbed.
Messrs. Carvin and Dick also tell us how their position is supported by certain "friend-of-the-court briefs," including one filed by an organization called the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. It should be pointed out to your readers that a member of this committee is News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal.