Today’s lesson is on How to Float Legally Non-Actionable Accusations. Mark Steyn should sharpen his pencil and take notes, because he and his co-defendants in Michael Mann’s defamation suit could easily have avoided legal action by following some very simple procedures, which I will illustrate here.
The other day I posted another commentary on the case, in which I brought up the fact that Steyn had explained Mann’s Hockey Stick graph to his readers as a “climate model” whose “predictions” had failed to pan out. In fact, I think I mention that gaffe in every post I do about this case, because it’s MADE OF AWESOME! When the standard of proof Mann has to meet is to show that the defendants acted with reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of their accusations against Mann, it’s like manna from heaven when one of the defendants demonstrates that he didn’t have a clue what the Hockey Stick even was before deciding to accuse Mann of producing it via fraudulent data manipulation for political ends. When I looked up one of my previous posts to get the link to Steyn’s article (called “SLAPPstick Farce”), however, the link kept redirecting my browser to Steyn’s homepage. This was the broken URL:
Next, I tried the search engine on Steyn’s site and on Google to search for the quoted phrases, but nothing turned up on Steyn’s site. Therefore, I next went to The Wayback Machine web archive to see if they had archived that page. When I entered the URL into The Wayback Machine, I found that this webpage had indeed been archived twice–once on Feb. 9, and once on May 4, of this year. When I clicked on the first archived version, I got the original article. When I clicked on the second, I got another redirect to Steyn’s homepage. (Click on the links, and you will see what I mean.) So for whatever reason, the page had been unavailable, redirecting traffic to Steyn’s homepage, for at least a month. It wasn’t just a fluke, evidently.
I thought it would be fun to play this up, because it seemed like this might constitute tenuous evidence that all my teasing about the “climate model” bit had actually convinced Steyn that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to keep the page up for people like me to wave in front of his coffee-mug-buying fans, who are financing his legal bills. I said:
Perhaps the mockery struck a nerve with Steyn. You will note, for instance, that my link to Steyn’s nonsensical explanation does not go to Steyn’s website, but to a web archive. He apparently took the article down from his site, perhaps belatedly realizing that it made him look like a buffoon… and didn’t exactly help his legal prospects.
TECHNIQUE #1. The fact is that I didn’t really have any really hard evidence that Steyn had taken the page down on purpose. I still don’t know whether there is some way this could happen via some software glitch, or whatever. Therefore, I threw in a couple “perhaps” qualifiers, and an “apparently”. I could float the idea that Steyn might have been acting like a total weasel, and even call him a “buffoon,” and he can’t do squat! This is why Steyn’s constant attempts to paint the lawsuit as an attempt to silence dissent are so stupid. He can dissent all he wants.
Well, yesterday Steyn came back with this rejoinder:
Actually, you can find the column in question here. And here. And in every public library that carries the print edition of National Review (the January 27th 2014 issue). And in a forthcoming anthology of mine due out this fall. If Barry Bickmore sends me his mailing address, I’ll make sure he gets a signed copy.
Horrors! Could I have been… shudder… WRONG? Well, maybe so, but let’s see how this plays out. You will note that the first of Steyn’s links is to:
Yep, the exact same address that redirected to Steyn’s homepage the day before… and a month before, according to The Wayback Machine. The second link was to the National Review website, where the article has a different title. I don’t know if I legitimately missed that one, because it actually has a different title on the NR site (so I might have missed it if I searched for the original title), and it was never archived by The Wayback Machine.
All of this seems rather suspicious to me. Could it be that Steyn is being a total weasel, and put the page back up again after I mentioned it was down?
TECHNIQUE #2. Note how I phrased that last sentence as a question, rather than a statement of fact. If I’m not confident that I have really hard proof, it would be stupid to come right out and accuse Steyn of weaselry. I’m no Internet guru, after all, so something might be going on that I wouldn’t think of on my own. But by phrasing it as a question after laying out the evidence, I made it so Steyn has no possible basis for a libel suit, and many readers might consider the evidence strong enough to believe the implied accusation.
Before I dismiss the class, let me make one last point. That is, in my opinion Mark Steyn is part of a conspiracy to promote a global, totalitarian government by encouraging Republicans to allow their party to be taken over by extremist ultra-Libertarians who are so obviously intellectually and mentally challenged that moderates and young people will flee to the Democrats. The subsequent collapse of the party will usher in the New World Order. Who knows what crimes he has committed to further the goals of the nefarious cabal? Theft? Extortion? Blackmail? MURDER?!!
POP QUIZ. In a short essay, explain how I was able to spout utter nonsense that I totally pulled out of you-know-where, accusing Mark Steyn of all kinds of awful things, and yet avoid any legal culpability.