So, Ian Wishart, author of the book Air Con, is threatening to sue The Herald Newspaper and one of its columnists for defamation! (See Air Con author preparing to sue Herald, and Hot Topic.) The offensive sentence? “Only this week breakfast TV host Paul Henry flirted with stupi-duty by lending support to Ian Wishart’s AirCon, a book that the excellent Hot Topic (www.hot-topic.co.nz) noted ‘appears to come from another planet'” (see Chris Barton: Climate debate adrift on rising tide of lunacy). (The word “supi-duty” was a parody on a critical missive the Herald had received from a climate change denier).
Seems pretty mild to me – hardly worthy of legal action. After all it was Paul Henry who was accused of flirting with “stupi-duty.” Yet Wishart is threatening legal action and also that “he may widen the lawsuit to include Renowden as well.” Renowden is the author of the critical review of Wishart’s book on Hot Topic (see Somethin’ stupid…).
Why the threat?
So this is how Wishart tries to bring reviewers of his books into line? I made several unsuccessfyl attempts to get a review copy of Air Con. Perhaps I should be thankful that I may not have been considered tame enough to receive one. I might also be threatened with legal action now.
Seriously though, why the legal threats? Surely there is no serious ground for them? Wishart can’t seriously expect to win such a lawsuit? Has he lost the plot?
I think he has two motives:
1: Publicity. Some authors will do anything to promote their book. Legal stunts are not new. And there is the old adage “no news is bad news.” Interestingly, though, my perception is that it is usually the purveyors of bad products who are the most likely to resort to defamation charges (consider the MaxiCrop case in New Zealand and the Chiropractors in the UK see Suppressing science).
2: Intimidation. Such legal action may have no chance of winning but companies can still be intimidated. They can often end up treating such litigious people with kid gloves. Editors may tell the journalists and columnists to go easy. Again we saw this effect of the MaxiCrop case pn the sensitivity of Crown research Insitutes in New Zealand (see Suppressing science).
Whatever. Legal intimidation is a sign of weakness. I would have thought that if Wishart was confident of his message he would rely on the facts, on the evidence, not the lawyers.