Today’s guest for Frontpage Interview is Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, Director of the American Center for Democracy.
A Ph.D. in criminology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Ehrenfed focuses on the Saudi penetration of and influence on the U.S. economy, and on the economic warfare against the U.S. and the West. She has published hundreds of articles and three books on these issues. Her last book Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed – and How to Stop It, also identified the funders of terrorism. The expose was not to the liking of Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz, who sued Ehrenfeld for libel in London. Ehrenfeld is only one of more than 40 writers and publishers who were sued or threatened with a suit in London by Mahfouz. Ehrenfeld alone challenged him and countersued him in the U.S.
Ehrenfeld’s insistence the British libel laws cannot be enforced in the NY state led to new legislation in several states in the U.S. and to the Free Speech Protection Act 2009, now pending before Congress. Her actions shed light on the insidious efforts particularly in the United Kingdom, where plaintiff- friendly libel laws and judges made London into the Mecca of Libel Tourism and the hub from which to undermine American writers’ and publishers’ free speech rights
FP: Welcome, Dr. Ehrenfeld.
Ehrenfeld: Thank you, Jamie. Once again, it is a pleasure.
FP: Can you explain what libel tourism is and bring us up to speed about your efforts to pass anti-libel tourism legislation?
Ehrenfeld: Libel Tourism is the abuse of forum shopping. The May 26 editorial in the New York Times explained this phenomenon: “American law, with its strong First Amendment traditions, makes it hard to sue authors for libel. To get around these protections, book subjects have been suing American authors in England, where the libel law is much less writer-friendly. Two states — New York and Illinois — have already adopted laws prohibiting “libel tourism,” and several more, including Florida and California, may soon join them.” In addition, the State Senate in New Jersey has already passed an anti-libel tourism bill and the Hawaii legislator is considering a similar bill.
FP: And what about Congress?
Ehrenfeld: Because many states do not offer protection against foreign libel judgments, that “leaves writers with only a patchwork of protection. Congress needs to pass a law that makes clear that no American court will enforce libel judgments from countries that provide less protection for the written word.” Therefore, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Peter King, (R- NY), Anthony Weiner, (D-NY), are sponsoring the Free Speech Protection Act, “which would, among other things, allow writers…to countersue for treble damages.”
FP: Why is it so important to pass this bill?
Ehrenfeld: At least 45 libel judgments in London, by Mahfouz alone, against many American writers and publishers have literally silenced American and Western media from reporting mostly on Arab/Muslim support for terrorism. The Free Speech Protection Act will remove the chilling effect of the British and other foreign libel laws from American writers, who will be able to report freely on matters critical to American national security. As the New York Times editorial stated in support of the bill: “If authors believe they are too vulnerable, they may be discouraged from taking on difficult and important topics, like terrorism financing, or from writing about wealthy and litigious people. That would not only be bad for writers, it would be bad for everyone.”
The most recent casualty is, Michael Gross and his intriguing and well researched book Rogue Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum (published May 5th by Broadway/Random House). The unauthorized book describes among others, a New York socialite Anne E. de la Renta, who serves on the influential boards of trustees New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New York Public Library.
Mrs. de la Renta did not like her portrayal. She hired an international law firm in NY and tried to suppress the publication of the book, threatening the author and the publisher with a lawsuit. “When that failed,” says Mr. Gross, an accomplished writer who lives and works in NYC: ”a credible threat of a law suit in England was made publicly…similar threats issued to at least two tabloids in NY, and other major media outlets mysteriously canceled reviews of the book and interviews with the author.” Although “Rachel’s Law” protects Mr. Gross in NY, Random House requested that amazonU. K. block the sale of the book in England.
So pernicious are British libel laws, that the mere threat of such suit was enough to kill the book’s sales there and chill its promotion in the U.S. This, as the NYT editorial concluded, “is bad for the writer[s] and bad for everyone.”
PF: Your determination and actions received wide media coverage and support. Surely, you receive a lot of financial support to sustain your efforts.
Ehrenfeld: This is neither cheep nor easy. The lack of funding impaired our efforts to educate the pubic and the legislature and delayed the passage the Free Speech Protection Act. With proper funding the bill could have already pass Congress, and I could have gone back to court to finish my lawsuit against the Saudi.
FP: Do you expect Congress to act soon?
Ehrenfeld: It should. The Free Speech Protection Act has wide support from most free speech organizations on both ends of the political spectrum. Many have petitioned the Judiciary Committee to pass the bill.
The universal acknowledgment that this law is necessary and the fact that it does not have any budget attached, should motivate Congress to hold hearings and pass the Free Speech Protection Act without further delay. The U.S. is the only country in the world to enshrine free speech in its Constitution. Congress should see to it that we are fully protected.