And Michael Mann, the Penn State professor who authored the "hockey stick" graph which projects the earth boiling and vaporizing in the next hundred years, cannot take a joke.
In fact, global warming is such serious business, and Mann is such a stuffed shirt, that he has threatened to sue the makers of the satiric video "Hide the Decline" for making fun of Mann and his involvement in the "climategate" email scandal, in which climatologists like Mann are alleged to have hidden or manipulated data to exaggerate the predicted effect of man-made global warming. The makers of the video have removed it from Youtube in response to Mann's threats, but people keep uploading it. Here it is.
Rather childish actually, but not so childish as Mann's threats of litigation over a parody in a political controversy into which he has injected himself for years.
Now global warming may indeed be serious business, but get this Michael Mann: the First Amendment is very serious business, and enjoys rather higher stature in courts of law than it does in meteorology and climatology circles. You might even say that the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech concerning political issues (such as the extent of and what to do about global warming) and public figures (such as famed climate scientist Michael Mann) is irrefutably proven. The outcome of a lawsuit against the makers of this satiric video, like the certainty that if nothing is done to reduce carbon emissions the earth will burn to a crisp, is not in doubt.
Mann will lose a lawsuit against the people behind Hide the Decline, just as Man will lose the earth if nothing is done about the coming climatological holocaust. Because the right of free speech allows debate, and satire, and parody, no matter how inane or wrong it may be.
And Mann knows this. His attorney, Peter J. Fontaine of Cozen O'Connor, who is issuing these threats, has advised him that he would lose on the merits. Fontaine is too good a lawyer not to know about New York Times v. Sullivan, a case that would sweep up what are essentially libel claims into the ash-bin of dismissal, whether Mann chooses to phrase them as "illegal use of image" or not. It would be cynical, not to mention wrong, to press a suit here.
Since we know that Mann's attorneys have given him good advice about the state of the law, this means that Mann, or his attorneys, have decided to threaten a non-meritorious lawsuit simply to silence political critics. This is the definition of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP, which many states have made illegal. Alas, too few. But for many of the other states, there is Rule 11 or the equivalent, which allows a court to award attorney's fees against a party bringing a suit which lacks legal or factual merit.
While a deep-pockted or influential plaintiff, like Mann, may often silence legitimate critics by the threat of a SLAPP, that isn't going to work here. Public interest firms and political entities are offering to defend the people who made this video against Mann's thuggish threats. They hope he files suit, which would allow them to conduct wide-ranging discovery into Mann's science, his beliefs, and whether he's actually manipulated data. They hope to discredit Mann's science, and bankrupt Mann through his own legal bills in the bargain. Cozen O'Connor works a case hard (I know from experience), but they don't work it cheap.
So here's a question Mann should ask his attorneys. who've surely given him the best advice, before going further: Will Cozen O'Connor take the case on a contingent fee, in which they recover nothing if Mann loses but pay themselves from a share of the judgment if he wins?
The answer would tell us, and Mann, a lot about the merits of his claims, and whether this is a SLAPP.