February 12, 2024

Mann Verdict an Affront to Free Speech

A DC jury finds in climate scientist Michael Mann’s favor in his defamation suit against conservative commentator Mark Steyn.

Vindictiveness scored a victory over free speech last week in a high-profile jury trial in Washington, DC. For 12 long years, climate scientist Michael Mann has dubiously pursued critics of his infamous “hockey stick” graph, which he used to argue in support of anthropogenic global warming.

Two of those critics whom he said had defamed him were conservative pundit Mark Steyn and Competitive Enterprise Institute science writer Rand Simberg. Mann sued the two primarily for daring to criticize his graph, claiming that he’d suffered harm.

The case should have been thrown out on its face, but it was allowed to continue, likely because of the narrative supported by many on the Left that labels all who challenge the claims of anthropogenic climate change as “climate deniers.” Indeed, given any other context, it would be difficult to imagine Mann’s assertions would have been taken seriously by any court.

But here we are, as a six-person jury handed down a verdict in Mann’s favor, with Steyn ordered to pay him $1 million in punitive damages and Simberg $1,000.

The obvious objection this entire case raised is one of First Amendment protection. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press, both foundational rights that undergird our Liberty, were infringed by this verdict. As Simberg’s attorney Victoria Weatherford observed, “Professor Mann is a public figure, and our First Amendment makes sure that each of us is free to comment on the most important issues of public concern without fear of being censored or silenced or bullied into submission.”

While this trial was ostensibly over the claim of defamation, the real issue was one of free speech, as evidenced ironically by arguments made by Mann’s attorney, John Williams. Williams contended that the jury should award punitive damages so as to prevent people from engaging in “climate denialism,” and he compared it to the danger of Donald Trump’s “election denialism.”

Wow. So holding an opinion on climate change that doesn’t comport with the current mainstream narrative and daring to voice that opinion should be grounds for legal liability? Talk about an absolute violation of not only the letter of the First Amendment but the spirit of it as well.

Speech is thought, and freedom to speak is freedom to think. Evidently, Mann would like nothing better than to have people prevented from being allowed to disagree with, let alone challenge, his theories on climate change. Indeed, that is the sentiment expressed by Kate Cell, a senior climate campaign manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists, who said that to believe a verdict in Mann’s favor would serve to “reduce the comfort and regularity with which those who do not accept climate change science speak, and speak very nastily, about climate scientists.”

Further cementing the notion that this case had everything to do with protecting the climate change narrative rather than defamation is Mann’s own history of false, inflammatory, and misleading statements. He has referred to Steyn as a “pathetic excuse for a human being,” as well as calling National Review, whom he initially also sued, a “filthy organization” and a “threat to children” that is doing the bidding of “greedy fat cat corporate masters.”

In other words, Mann has said far worse things about those he’s sued than they have regarding his dubious climate change claims. As our Nate Jackson said during the trial, “Mann is arguably the one guilty of actual malice.” And he’s not done, either, vowing to target National Review again after his victory. “They’re next,” Mann said.

The jury should have taken a line from that cult classic, “The Big Lebowski,” regarding his complaint and said, “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just like your opinion, Mann.”

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