A Washington, D.C. judge on Friday dismissed the defamation case that Penn State University professor Michael Mann filed against the conservative magazine National Review in 2012 over a blog post that called his infamous “hockey stick graph” “deceptive” and “fraudulent.”
The case has bounced around various levels of Washington, D.C. and federal courts for years as Mann, a climate scientist, seeks to bring the suit to a jury trial. He is also suing commentator Mark Steyn, who wrote the blog post in question, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which Steyn quoted in his blog post that appeared on the National Review’s website.
The “hockey stick graph” was meant to illustrate a sharp rise in global temperatures corresponding approximately with the Industrial Revolution, when humans began emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It showed temperatures increasing sharply after a long time remaining relatively flat, forming the shape of a hockey stick. But many questioned the methods Mann used to create the graph.
A docket entry for Friday on the D.C. Superior Court’s case page says that the judge granted “National Review’s Motion for Summary Judgment.”
The National Review, in a post on its website, says that the court dismissed the case on the grounds that Steyn was not technically an employee of the National Review and that the post was not reviewed by National Review editors before it was published.
That means, the publication said, that the suit continues against Steyn and CEI, and that Mann could appeal the dismissal as it relates to the National Review.
Mann’s legal team, meanwhile, has argued that he has strong grounds for a defamation case.
“The falsity of the defendants’ statements is confirmed not only by the investigations noted by the Court of Appeals, but by numerous scientific studies and reviews addressing Dr. Mann’s research, as well as Dr. Mann’s expert testimony,” Mann’s legal team said in a brief filed in January. “[T]he defendants have failed to produce any admissible evidence that their allegations are true.”
But the defendants say that Steyn’s post was an opinion protected by the First Amendment. Justice Samuel Alito in 2019 appeared to agree in a dissent as the Supreme Court declined on procedural grounds to hear a National Review petition on the matter.
“[R]equiring a free speech claimant to undergo a trial after a ruling that may be constitutionally flawed is no small burden,” he wrote. “A journalist who prevails after trial in a defamation case will still have been required to shoulder all the burdens of difficult litigation and may be faced with hefty attorney’s fees. Those prospects may deter the uninhibited expression of views that would contribute to a healthy public debate.”
National Review Editor-in-Chief Rich Lowry in a story posted Friday on the publication’s website, that the National Review may attempt to force Mann to pay its attorneys fees.
“Let’s just say if I were him, I’d be very worried about this possibility,” Lowry said, in the National Review post. The magazine said it has spent “millions” of dollars on the litigation.