Comment Is Free . . . Sometimes

by Charles C. W. Cooke

On Thursday, in the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” section, Richard Schiffman had a piece on Michael Mann titled ”Harassment of climate scientists needs to stop.” Among the “harassment” that Schiffman lists, are Mann’s being:

denounced on billboards, grilled by hostile legislators on Capitol Hill and in the British House of Commons, [having] his emails hacked and stolen, [receiving] letters laced with an anthrax-like white powder, and [becoming] the target of anonymous death threats.

Not all of these things are the same, of course, and to zip between them as if they were is willfully dishonest. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone justifying the hacking of e-mails, the sending of anthrax through the mail, or the issuing of death threats. And even if you could, they would remain highly illegal. The rest, however? To be expected. When your testimony is used to justify sweeping changes in public policy, you had better expect to be “grilled” by legislators – and, sometimes, in a “hostile” manner, too. When you put yourself forward as a public figure, you had better expect a reasonable degree of opprobrium and of denunciation. When you make eschatological claims that have been knocked by your fellow professionals – Mann’s key work is marked by “too much certainty and inappropriate simplicity,” Richard Muller argues – you had better expect people to notice.

Despite Schiffman’s plaint, Mann is not an anonymous scientist working quietly in a laboratory, but a self-promoting public figure who ventures readily into politics and has even taken to campaigning for specific political candidates. An anonymous man he is not. Indeed, even if Mann were regarded as a limited purpose public figure who could only legally be criticized within his field (a ghastly notion, but the law alas), that would still be irrelevant to these cases. Why? Well, because Mann is bashed, and forced to testify, and put up on billboards because of his work, and not for anything else. His open view is that the government should use force to change the fundamental drivers of the economy based upon his controversial testimony, and that Americans should vote for the people who agree with him. What does he think is going to happen when he says these things aloud?

Mann, the author relates, did “not imagine that he would be spending quite so much time with lawyers and in courtrooms.” Then, inexplicably, he cheers on Mann’s decision to sue National Review – a choice that Mann elected to make. There is something deeply ugly about a writer who contributes to a blog called “Comment Is Free” praising a frivolous libel lawsuit — especially in a post whose primary purpose is to complain about alleged “harassment.” It is worth remembering that Mann is in court because some people who think that he is full of it wrote some astringent criticisms of him and he couldn’t deal with it. Well, tough. That’s how free societies work. As Mark Steyn points out, Mann’s work is by no means universally praised (even if it were that wouldn’t particularly matter), nor, being in many cases primarily political speech, are his words magically inoculated from condemnation. 

Sorry, Richard. You’re on the wrong side.