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Climate scientist’s lawsuit could wipe out conservative National Review magazine

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The National Review magazine, longstanding house news organ of the establishment right, is facing a lawsuit that could shutter the publication permanently. According to The Week, a suit by a climate scientist threatens to bankrupt the already financially shaky publication and its website, the National Review Online (NRO).

Scientist Michael Mann is suing the Review over statements made by Canadian right-wing polemicist and occasional radio stand-in for Rush Limbaugh, Mark Steyn. Steyn was writing on the topic of climate change when he accused Mann of falsifying data and perpetuating intellectual fraud through his research.

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Steyn went on to quote paid anti-climate science operative Rand Simberg — an employee of the right-wing think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute — who compared Mann to Penn State’s convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky.

Mann, Simberg said, is “the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data.”

Mann sued for defamation. Steyn and the Review vowed to fight the suit, given that defamation is notoriously difficult to prove in court.

“My advice to poor Michael is to go away and bother someone else,” said Review editor Rich Lowry. “If he doesn’t have the good sense to do that, we look forward to teaching him a thing or two about the law and about how free debate works in a free country.”

As the case has played out, however, Lowry’s hubris has proven to be unwarranted.

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“In July,” wrote The Week’s Damon Linker, “Judge Natalia Combs Greene rejected a motion to dismiss the suit. The defendants appealed, and last week D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg rejected the motion again, opening the door for the discovery phase of the lawsuit to begin.”

The Review, which has run at a loss since it was founded on money inherited by William F. Buckley, Jr. in 1955, appealed to readers and supporters for help paying its rapidly mounting legal bills.

Lowry wrote:

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As many of you know, National Review is not a non-profit — we are just not profitable. A lawsuit is not something we can fund with money we don’t have. Of course, we’ll do whatever we have to do to find ourselves victorious in court and Professor Mann thoroughly defeated, as he so richly deserves to be. Meanwhile, we have to hire attorneys, which ain’t cheap.

The bills are already mounting.

This is our fight, legally. But with the global-warming extremists going all-out to silence critics, it’s your fight too, morally. When we were sued, we heard from many of you who expressed a desire to help underwrite our legal defense. We deeply appreciated the outpouring of promised help.

Now we really need it.

Then, at Christmastime, Steyn abruptly fired the legal team representing him and the magazine, white shoe firm Steptoe and Johnson, after an argument over a highly inflammatory — and appallingly typed — NRO post about Judge Combs Greene. Steyn accused her of “staggering incompetence,” called her stupid, and accused her of deliberate obtuseness regarding the Mann suit.

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Now, Steyn is representing himself against Mann and he and the Review have parted ways.

Steyn wrote to Mother Jones, saying that he was simply no longer able to contain his sense of disdain for the federal judge and her decision not to dismiss Mann’s suit.

“I spent the first months attempting to conceal my contempt for Judge Combs Greene’s court,” said Steyn. “But really, it’s not worth the effort.”

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On his personal blog, Steyn wrote, “As readers may have deduced from my absence at National Review Online and my termination of our joint representation, there have been a few differences between me and the rest of the team.”

Now, as the suit grinds onward, the Review faces fairly dismal prospects. The suit could eventually be dismissed, but that is looking less likely. What’s looking more likely is that Mann could win a substantial judgment in court or the magazine could settle out of court.

The Week doubts that the publication could financially survive either of those outcomes. In 2005, before his death, Buckley estimated that the Review had lost more than $25 million in its 50 years of operation. It has never enjoyed a single moment of robust financial health competing in the “free market of ideas,” but has relied on reader contributions and bailouts from wealthy donors for the entirety of its history.

Conservatives like to point Buckley’s legacy and the Review as the reasonable, moderate edge of an regressive, reactionary party. In its history, the magazine has consistently staked out far-right positions that favor whites over nonwhites and plutocrats over the middle and working classes.

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National Review authors have railed against racial integration, called Hitler a left-wing radical, and argued with a straight face that African-Americans are inherently more violent and less civilized than whites.

Lowry himself famously declared “We’re winning” the War in Iraq just before catastrophic waves of sectarian violence engulfed the country and permanently scuttled the American-led reconstruction effort.

Lately contributor Mona Charen has authored a series of wildly LGBT-phobic articles, lamenting the mainstreaming of “unusual sexual identities” and accusing parents who allow their transgender children to be themselves of “child abuse.”

[image of William F. Buckley Jr. via Wikipedia.com]

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