"I'm gonna punch you in the nose" is a serious threat. "I'm gonna punch you in the nose tomorrow … or the day after" carries much less urgency. But the stipulative warning "I'm gonna punch you in the nose next week in England, where I'm looking to hire a professional nose-puncher to inflict the punishment" is the sort of statement only a grandstanding pantywaist would make.
A grandstanding pantywaist like Richard N. Perle.
Perle threatened yesterday to sue investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh for libel—specifically, for things Hersh wrote about him in this week's New Yorker. The article examines the potential conflict of interest posed by Perle's dual roles as official Bush adviser (in the form of non-paid chair of the Defense Policy Board) and as managing partner at Trireme Partners, a venture capital firm. Trireme appears to invest in businesses that deal in enterprises "that are of value to homeland security and defense," according to Hersh's piece. As a special government employee, Perle is subject to a federal Code of Conduct, Hersh writes, and "[t]hose rules bar a special employee from participating in an official capacity in any matter in which he has a financial interest."
The article doesn't accuse Perle of breaking any laws, but it explores the unseemly nature of advocating a war on Iraq while engaged in a business that could financially benefit from such a war.
Ordinarily newspapers don't consider it news that someone might have "plans" to file a lawsuit. Especially if they plan to file later. In England. All of which explains why no U.S. daily published his threat except the neoconservative New York Sun. Its story, "Perle Suing Over New Yorker Article," in yesterday's edition, reads like a press release for Perle, who, the article notes, is a director of Hollinger International, which, the article notes, invests in the Sun.
In mounting Perle's prosecution, the Sun article calls upon Perle protégé Laurent Murawiec, a former follower of Lyndon LaRouche. Murawiec, who made news last year when he gave a PowerPoint presentation before the Defense Policy Board that called for the invasion of Saudi Arabia and the seizure of its oil fields, said to the Sun, "Richard has been in public life for over 30 years and his ethics have never been challenged by anybody." Not surprisingly, no Perle critic or Hersh partisan comments in the piece. (Addendum, March 14, 2003: The New York Sun's Ira Stoll, who used to bird-dog the New York Times with his SmarterTimes Web site, writes to complain that the Sun did talk to somebody on Hersh's side—New Yorker editor David Remnick. That's true, but Remnick is a likely defendant in the case if Perle is nuts enough to file it, not an outside observer. Had the Sun been interested in pursuing the sort of "balance" Stoll used to urge upon the Times, it would have talked to Hersh partisans after letting two Perle cronies prattle on about how wonderful and unassailable their buddy is. When the Sun publishes its follow-up about Perle v. Hersh, I'm available to comment about Hersh's bona fides.)
What part of The New Yorker story is untrue, the Sun asked Perle? "It's all lies, from beginning to end," Perle responded, not exactly furthering his brief. Perle knows his way around lies, having described Hersh to CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Sunday as "the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist … because he sets out to do damage and he will do it by whatever innuendo, whatever distortion he can—look, he hasn't written a serious piece since My Lai." Yes, yes; since his My Lai story, Hersh has only dealt with such lighthearted subjects as KAL 007, the Israeli bomb, and Henry Kissinger.
While we're on the subject of serious, it bears examining why Perle would take his libel lawsuit to England. Is it because Perle is English? No. Because Hersh is? No. Because The New Yorker is published there? No. He's venue-shopping in England because it's easier to win a libel case there than it is here, which he explains in the Sun. As a public figure and government official, Perle would be laughed out of court in the United States. If he got a settlement in the U.K., he could raid the substantial British assets of the The New Yorker's parent company, Condé Nast.
British libel law, of course, is completely un-American! "While both American and British law preclude liability if the statement is true, American law places the burden of proof on the plaintiff to show the statement is false," write media lawyers Laura R. Handman and Robert D. Balin of Davis Wright Tremaine. "By contrast, British law imposes the burden on defendant to prove truth or 'justification' and permits aggravated damages if defendant tries but fails." Maybe Hersh should be grateful Perle isn't filing where Sharia is observed.
Will Perle file against Hersh, or is he just shooting his mouth off? Handman and Balin write that British courts have begun "turning back" blatant cases of venue-shopping by litigants who think the British courts are a soft touch. The two judges who preside over libel cases in London recently rejected a pair of libel suits against Forbes because no discussion of the litigants' English interests could be found in the articles. File your case in the United States, the judges essentially said. They have a wonderful legal system.
The judge will probably tell Perle the same thing. So, go ahead and sue, Mr. Perle, and make sure an expensive barrister handles your case. The New Yorker has money to burn, and I'd love to see you lose yours.
Let's talk libel. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.