Penn State climatologist Michael Mann, he of the infamous “Hockey stick” graph, is threatening to sue Mark Steyn and National Review for a blog post on NRO in which Steyn (quoting Rand Simberg) compared Penn State’s investigation of scientific misconduct allegations against Mann with the same university’s initial investigation of Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State football program. Steyn called Mann’s hockey-stick graph “fraudulent” and Penn State’s investigation of Mann’s conduct in the wake of the “ClimateGate” e-mail scandal, “a joke.”
Steyn’s comments may have been over the top, but are they worth a lawsuit? Mann thinks so, and has threatened to sue if NRO does not remove the offending blog post.
A month later, the blog post is still there, and National Review is not backing down. Here’s the response from their lawyer, which notes (correctly in my view) that Mann is a public figure who would have to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that NR published “a provably false statement” with actual knowledge the statement was false or “reckless disregard” for the truth or falsity of the statement. Further, the letter notes, in order to defend itself NR would be entitled to seek discovery, and in the process obtain access to e-mails and other records that Mann has, thus far, resisted disclosing in various freedom-of-information suits prompted by ClimateGate. Writes NR editor Rich Lowry:
Usually, you don’t welcome a nuisance lawsuit, because it’s a nuisance. It consumes time. It costs money. But this is a different matter in light of one word: discovery.
If Mann sues us, the materials we will need to mount a full defense will be extremely wide-ranging. So if he files a complaint, we will be doing more than fighting a nuisance lawsuit; we will be embarking on a journalistic project of great interest to us and our readers.
And this is where you come in. If Mann goes through with it, we’re probably going to call on you to help fund our legal fight and our investigation of Mann through discovery. If it gets that far, we may eventually even want to hire a dedicated reporter to comb through the materials and regularly post stories on Mann.
“I don’t bluff,” Mann’s lawyer told the Columbia Journalism Review in July. I think the folks at NR just called it.
[Disclosure: I am a contributing editor to National Review Online, for which I write occasional articles and blog posts.]
FURTHER UPDATE: Mann and his attorney’s respond. Says Mann, “We intend to file a lawsuit.” Grab the popcorn.