“Birthers Sue Esquire for $120 Million Over Satirical Article”

by Walter Olson on June 30, 2011

Leading birthers Joseph Farah and Jerome Corsi are suing Esquire for $120 million because the magazine published a satirical article headlined, ‘BREAKING! Jerome Corsi’s Birther Book Pulled From Shelves!,’ Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici reports.” [Atlantic Wire, Daily Caller]

{ 14 comments }

1 Aaron Worthing 06.30.11 at 12:06 pm

esquire screwed the pooch on that one. i don’t like birthers and i don’t like defamation suits, but they got a point in this case.

2 Aaron Worthing 06.30.11 at 1:54 pm

i will add, though, that the price tag seems a little high. i mean they seem to blame them for their sales being less then steller, and um, there is also the fact that obama made the book obselite.

i mean okay i know some people* might continue to assert that the long for is fake, but don’t you at least need to rewrite that book to account for that?

* mind you, i think he was definitely born here and barring powerful proof to the contrary, i am not interested in the issue.

3 gitarcarver 06.30.11 at 3:24 pm

This isn’t about the Esquire article. This is about getting Corsi’s claims in front of a judge.

4 asdfasdf 06.30.11 at 3:34 pm

The original article is misleading because it says the Esquire article was “satirical” and that it is an “Onion-style parody”.

Although Esquire now claims the article is “satirical”, a reader could not have reasonably inferred that from the article itself, at the time it was published. It has nothing to do with “Onion-style parody” because, among other things, in the Onion nearly every article is satirical. Esquire, however normally publishes straight news.

Just because Corsi’s book’s claims are incorrect or unpopular should not mean he can be libeled or defrauded, as the Esquire article was. (As a matter of normative law, I mean. In practice, nowadays, because Corsi’s claims are incorrect or unpopular, judges and juries will likely twist the law to deny him its protections. Normatively, however, Corsi is in the right in this case.)

5 gitarcarver 06.30.11 at 6:50 pm

The original article is misleading because it says the Esquire article was “satirical” and that it is an “Onion-style parody”.

The “breaking news!” didn’t give you a clue that it was a “Onion style parody?”

Although Esquire now claims the article is “satirical”, a reader could not have reasonably inferred that from the article itself, at the time it was published.

Hmmmm…. can you tell me where I can get a copy of “Capricorn One: NASA, JFK, and the Great “Moon Landing” Cover-Up” by Corsi then?

Or did you not catch that?

If you had, wouldn’t that be a reasonable clue that the article was satirical in nature?

6 Bill Poser 06.30.11 at 9:11 pm

In American law defamation requires a false factual statement. Making fun of people for holding an opinion that they in fact hold (or held) cannot constitute defamation no matter how nasty the ridicule.

7 Jack Wilson 07.01.11 at 11:46 am

Mr. Poser, the article wasn’t making fun of someone. It was a fraudulent news story which caused financial damage.

8 Wayne 07.01.11 at 10:27 pm

The article is obviously a satire, and the suit will no doubt be dismissed “swift”ly.

I couldn’t believe a reputable lawyer would file such a ludicrous case. Then I saw the counsel of record is Larry Klayman.

9 Bill Poser 07.02.11 at 2:05 am

Mr. Wilson, a satirical mock news story is not a “fraudulent news story”.

10 Bill Poser 07.02.11 at 2:12 am

By the way, even if Esquire could reasonably have expected that a significant number of people would not have recognized the piece as satire, they posted a notice to that effect 95 minutes after posting the article. And what financial damage did the Esquire satire cause? Surely his book was damaged much more severely by the fact that Obama released his long-form birth certificate, a fact CORRECTLY reported in the satirical piece.

11 asdfasdf 07.02.11 at 9:29 am

Poser, you’re conflating distinct issues: whether the publication of the false news story was tortious on the one hand; and what the damages were if it was. These issues are distinct.

The publication of the news story itself was prima facie tortious because it was (a) false; (b) caused economic damage; and (c) would not have been considered satire by most of its audience. The argument that it would have been obvious to a reasonable reader that it was satire because it was headed “breaking news” or the like just show how much of an uphill battle Corsi has in the court of public opinion. That is to say, the arguments are clearly fallacious, and the fact that they’re taken seriously shows how people’s emotions about Corsi are clouding the legal facts (hint: “breaking news” is not an “obvious signal” for satire, even though the Onion uses those terms).

Poser and others are correct that, as in many complaints, the damages sought are not going to be collected. When damages are difficult to calculate or estimate at this early stage in the litigation, as in this case, there are sometimes technical pleading reasons to included aspirational damage estimates in the complaint. It doesn’t prejudice the defendant, at the pleading stage, and the damages will be reassessed after discovery and summary judgment phases of the litigation.

The fact, however, that Esquire’s characterization of the article as “satire” is being so widely accepted, and that for instance people here argue that the words “breaking news” was an “obvious signal” of satire, illustrate that as a matter of legal reality Corsi has little chance to prevail. But that’s only because he’s so unpopular. As a matter of black-letter law the original Esquire article was tortious and Esquire is liable for the damages they caused.

12 gitarcarver 07.02.11 at 1:06 pm

The publication of the news story itself was prima facie tortious because it was (a) false;

Satire is often “false.

(b) caused economic damage; and

That is, of course, according to Corsi and Farah. It is not a statement of fact.

(c) would not have been considered satire by most of its audience.

This is factually wrong. People other than those who support Corsi took it as satire. The “viral tweets” were from “birthers” – not from people saying it was a factual news story.

The article was in a blog – a political blog – and not a part of the Esquire “news” page or magazine. The idea that some people did not see or understand the satire takes nothing away from the fact that the piece was satire.

13 William nuesslein 07.03.11 at 10:00 am

What ever happened to the maxim that all publicity about a book is good publicity. Mr. Corsi got an extensive interview on the Bob Grant show, which interview might not have happened without the Esquire controversy.

14 Jack Wilson 07.06.11 at 8:10 am

The test I use is to substitute another book that has no political implications and see what the response would be to this type of ‘breaking news’ story. I think if you could show that any sales were cancelled based on this story you would have a case.

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