Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is acclaimed for her detailed and investigative reporting on complex financial networks that support drug trafficking and terrorism. She was one of the first investigative journalists to draw attention to the controversial political and global activities of George Soros, the billionaire who took advantage of a loophole in U.S. campaign-finance law and spent $23 million last year to try to defeat President Bush for re-election.
Ehrenfeld, the Director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy, has been a research scholar at the New York University School of Law, a visiting scholar at the Columbia University Institute of War and Peace Studies, and a fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She has also served as a government and law enforcement consultant, having most recently advised the U.S. Defense Department’s Threat Reduction Agency.
However, Ehrenfeld’s work, as well as that of other authors, is now at risk because of a lawsuit filed in London, the world capital for what’s now called “libel tourism.” At stake is nothing less than freedom of the press here in the United States and the First Amendment right of journalists to cover matters affecting U.S. national security and survival. This case involves another billionaire, Khalid Salim a Bin Mahfouz of Saudi Arabia.
Ehrenfeld’s saga began with the publishing of her 2003 book, Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It. This, Ehrenfeld’s fifth book, examined the alleged involvement of Bin Mahfouz and his relatives and others in the funding of al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden and other terrorist entities. Bin Mahfouz, who denies any role in sponsoring or financing terrorism, responded by filing a lawsuit against Ehrenfeld in London, claiming defamation.
The Bin Mahfouz family describes itself as “a major participant in Saudi Arabian business affairs for many years” and “one of the country’s major investors both at home and abroad.” The family also funds humanitarian activities abroad. But Bin Mahfouz and his lawyers have been busy going after writers and authors who claim to have documented that some of these humanitarian activities have turned out to be terrorist-related.
The family website identifies several “books, reports, newspapers, magazines and web based publications” which “contain numerous errors of fact about Khalid Bin Mahfouz and his family. Some of them make serious allegations against him, which are manifestly false and defamatory.” The website also lists several publications, including the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, which have corrected inaccuracies about him. It goes on to state that “Khalid Bin Mahfouz and his family reserve their rights against the authors, editors, publishers, distributors and printers of these publications. Furthermore, it should be noted that they expressly reserve their rights against any person or entity which repeats any of the erroneous allegations contained in these or any other publications.”
AIM sympathizes with any individual whose reputation is damaged by the media, and the record shows that Bin Mahfouz has obtained corrections of the record and apologies from a number of major authors and journalists who have alleged that he was involved in terrorism. But we are also concerned by the possibility that wealthy individuals could use the courts to silence their critics.
It is troubling that a respected author and expert such as Ehrenfeld was sued in a London rather than U.S. court. Although the book was not published or marketed in Britain, Bin Mahfouz was able go forward with his suit because 23 copies of her book were shipped overseas to people in London and because one chapter was accessible to residents there via the Internet.
In regard to the Ehrenfeld book, the Bin Mahfouz website declares that, “On 3 May 2005, Mr. Justice Eady in the High Court in London awarded Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz, Abdulrahman Bin Mahfouz and Sultan Bin Mahfouz substantial damages in their libel action against Rachel Ehrenfeld and Bonus Books. The Judge also made a declaration that the allegations contained in a book, ‘Funding Evil,’ written by Rachel Ehrenfeld and published by Bonus Books were false and highly defamatory of the Claimants. The Judge ordered the Defendants to pay the Claimants’ costs of the action and publish a correction and apology. The full Judgment of Mr. Justice Eady will be made available shortly.”
Different Legal Standards
Under English law, however, the plaintiff does not need to prove malice or negligence. The burden of proof falls upon the defendant who must prove that all his/her statements are in fact true, not just that they were reported in good faith. Such a legal process is unthinkable in the U.S., where the burden of proof is upon a public plaintiff who must prove that what was reported about him/her was demonstrably false, malicious and/or reckless.
Bin Mahfouz, whose wealth is estimated by Forbes magazine at $2.8 billion, has yet to lose a case in the London courts. Ehrenfeld said that other publishers have capitulated to his legal threats because surrendering is cheaper than launching a defense.
Ehrenfeld boycotted the London court proceedings, was found guilty, and ordered to pay ?60,000 (US $109,470) as a “down payment” on damages. (Media erroneously reported the figure as a final fine of ?30,000.) The London Times reported the judge as saying it was “false” to say that Bin Mahfouz financed or supported al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.
Ehrenfeld says her reporting on Bin Mahfouz was based largely on public and other authoritative sources and included footnoted references to documents or information from the CIA, Department of Defense, Treasury Department, and Congress. She also cited investigative reporting by the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, London Times, The Economist and the Financial Times. But some of her sources, she contends, have access to confidential information that they could not discuss in open court.
Freedom Of The Press
Ehrenfeld said that she has no intention of complying with the court order and has chosen instead to fight for her First Amendment rights by suing the billionaire in New York. She wants the court to find the London judgment to be unenforceable in the U.S., and to reiterate that publication of her book may continue in the U.S. because it is constitutionally protected speech. What Ehrenfeld is seeking is a legal remedy to vindicate her rights and protect her integrity and reputation as a writer. “This is a landmark case which I hope will make a legal precedent,” she says. She adds that, “thus far Bin Mahfouz has successfully used the UK courts as an instrument to intimidate and try to silence investigations about his and other Saudis alleged role in financing Islamist terror organizations.”
Ehrenfeld sees the outcome of her New York case as a pivot point for national security reporting in the U.S. She says that authors should not have to fear getting sued over publishing what they regard as thoroughly researched information about alleged terrorist networks and their backers. Ehrenfeld says she has already learned of a major publisher who has decided to shelve a new book on Saudi-related terrorism because they fear the financial burden that may come with having to defend the book in London courts. She says that in the wake of previous Bin Mahfouz lawsuits filed in London against other authors and reporters, newspapers now reference alleged Saudi funding of terrorism in only the vaguest of terms.
Ehrenfeld’s lawsuit states that, “[Bin Mahfouz] both hides the truth of his acts behind the screen of English libel law and seriously chills legitimate and good faith investigation into his behavior and links to terrorism.” Contending that the funding of terrorism is one of the most crucial issues of national security and of immense public interest, the lawsuit states that “It is common knowledge that inquiry into sources of such funding has been difficult. This action will allow such inquiry in the public interest to continue.”
London has become notorious for these lawsuits. Perhaps the most notorious is the legal action filed against author Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. Lipstadt named David Irving as a holocaust denier who deliberately distorted historical facts in her book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.” Irving sued Lipstadt in London. And because Lipstadt had to prove her statements were true in the British courts, she had to therefore prove the Holocaust happened, that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz, and so on. She won the case but the legal proceedings cost her over $1 million. The grueling yet triumphant saga is the subject of her new book “History on Trial: My Day in Court With David Irving.”
Professor Lipstadt can now post this notice on her website without fear of being sued: “The book is Lipstadt’s account of her successful defense against Holocaust denier, David Irving, who sued her for libel for calling him a denier.” At a recent celebration held in Lipstadt’s honor, David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, said, “[W]hat was going to be on trial was not Deborah Lipstadt per se but the Holocaust. For generations it would shape the way people view the Holocaust. This was not her battle alone.”
THE U.N.’S BLOATED MINISTRY OF PROPAGANDA
Editor’s Note: This special report is provided by Mediacrity, a new website that serves as a media insider’s view of media hypocrisy and stupidity. The site is: http://mediacrity.blogspot.com
One thing that nobody denies, as even the U.N.’s staunchest defenders know that doing so would be silly, is that the U.N.’s bureaucracy is grotesquely bloated?at the expense of, to a large extent, the U.S. taxpayers. Well, it seems that one of the most ridiculously bloated segments of that bureaucracy is the army of people whose job it is to spin, fold, and mutilate public perceptions of the U.N. In other words, the Department of Public Information (DPI), or Ministry of Propaganda, headed by Shashi Tharoor.
A long-time associate of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Tharoor was executive assistant to Annan from January 1997 to July 1998. From July 1998 to January 2001, he was director of communications and special projects in the office of the Secretary-General.
The U.N., labeled by critics as the “East River Debating and Terrorist Cheerleading Society,” employs SEVEN HUNDRED flacks, propagandists and flack-support personnel. Four hundred are in New York and three hundred are in the field. Yet the U.N.’s pliant press corps hasn’t written one word on this entire thing ever since this embarrassing subject surfaced on May 20 at a daily press briefing.
As far as Tharoor is concerned, these are all essential personnel! It came out at the press conference that Tharoor “has been unable to identify a single post in DPI that he doesn’t think is essential for the continuation of DPI.”
Apparently that includes himself?even though it appears that he has plenty of time on his hands. It was disclosed at a subsequent press briefing that Tharoor has so much spare time that he actually has written a book while on the U.N. payroll, entitled Bookless in Baghdad. He had previously written a biography of Nehru, also while manning a desk at the U.N. headquarters.
Tharoor’s new book is a thumb-sucker on the craft of writing. Guess he had plenty of time to sit around and think about that, while you paid his salary.
Isn’t that a pretty picture? Your tax dollars support him and the seven hundred professional shills and flacks in his employ. Oh, and here’s a cute postscript: According to the May 20 press briefing, Tharoor has said publicly that the DPI does a lousy job.
The Track Record
In fact, the U.N. does a pretty good job of promoting anti-American and anti-Semitic propaganda.
A fascinating post has appeared on John Rosenthal’s excellent Transatlantic Intelligencer blog, describing how Tharoor’s U.N. propaganda apparatus gave a forum in 2001 to an anti-Semitic figure by the name of Israel Shamir. He practices anti-Semitism of the old-fashioned “Jews run everything” variety. He is so far off the charts that he was disowned by the hate-Israel community! Pro-Palestinian activist Nigel Parry was so embarrassed by his ravings that he was forced to distance himself from Shamir, saying on his anti-Israel website that Shamir’s writings can “best be described as a classic anti-Semitic repertoire.”
What’s too anti-Semitic for even the worst Israel-bashers is just fine by the U.N.’s Ministry of Propaganda. As first reported in Transatlantic, “In June 2001, the UN held an ‘International Media Encounter on the Question of Palestine’ in Paris. The ostensible ‘theme’ was ‘The Search for Peace in the Middle East.’ Shamir figured among the invited speakers.” (All flown out to gay Paree at U.N.-member-taxpayer expense, and perhaps paid for their trouble.)
Tharoor was then the Interim Head of the DPI. He had been appointed to that position by Annan in January.
By the time Shamir was trotted out by Tharoor and company, Shamir had already been disowned by the Palestinians as anti-Semitic! The Shamir letters and writings posted on Parry’s website were dated April 2001, predating this U.N. conclave by two months. Tharoor was the moderator and spoke at this nauseating “event,” reading a “welcome message” from Kofi Annan. The participants were the typical assortment of Palestinian cheerleaders, including such luminaries as Phyllis Bennis, author of the book, Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s U.N.
The DPI bio for this event described Shamir as a “leading Russian-Israeli intellectual, writer, translator and journalist.”
(Asked about charges that he is anti-Semitic, he responded, “By whom? And what does it mean? Who are the Semites I am allegedly against? Is it better or worse than being anti-Muslim, anti-Church, anti-American, anti-fascist, anti-diluvian, anti-pode? How does one treat this disease?” On how arrangements were made for him to participate in the U.N. event, he said he had “no idea.”)
As a result of great work like this, in June 2002, Tharoor was confirmed as the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information of the United Nations.
Defending The Indefensible
A fan of Tharoor’s later wrote in to say that Tharoor criticized Shamir at the conference, that some of his best friends are Jews, etc. etc., and that “the decision to include Israel Shamir was made prior to Tharoor’s appointment.” However, Tharoor was appointed five months before the Paris “forum” that gave a platform to a joker who is so extreme that he is disowned by the Palestinians.
Five months was plenty of time for Tharoor to unpack, put up his pictures, water his plants, make a pot of coffee and…yes, vet the participants in the U.N. International Media Encounter on the Question of Palestine. Or, at the very least, delegate one of the seven hundred flacks, bureaucrats and propagandists at the Department of Public Information to do the job for him.
If Tharoor really did challenge Shamir at the conference and was sorry he was invited, one would think there would be something in the public record distancing himself and DPI from Shamir. There isn’t.
By the way, you will note that nobody in the media ever picked up on this 2001 event. That is because Tharoor, Shamir & Co. were among chums, the fanatically U.N.-defending, sometimes bought-and-paid-for U.N. press corps.
A reader decided to send copies of the Mediacrity post on Tharoor to some U.N. reporters, as a way of alerting them to this Tharoor-Shamir business and perhaps arouse their interest. After all, it is a legitimate news story.
Excusing The U.N.
What if Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, had done exactly what Tharoor had done? It would be page-one news from coast to coast and the reply that “I’ve only been on the job for five months” wouldn’t wash. McClellan would be fired so fast it would make your head spin.
A snippy response came from none other than Evelyn Leopold, U.N. correspondent for the Reuters news service, who said, “You have an agenda and relly [sic] don’t know what you are talking about. Tis embarrassing.”
Wow. This lady is most definitely not interested and is really annoyed that someone would dare question the record of her chum, the U.N.’s Minister of Propaganda. Isn’t that interesting? Putting aside the irony of someone from Reuters accusing anyone else on this planet of having an “agenda,” we have this “don’t know what you’re talking about” stuff.
Well, Ms. Leopold: it’s all in the public record?Shamir’s Jew-baiting, his participation in the “forum,” his repudiation by the Palestinians?every bit of it.
Her email substantiates what has already become pretty obvious, which is that the relationship between the U.N. press corps and the U.N. is cozy, sugar-sweet and intimate. Sure, some of them have been on the payroll, but you don’t have to be functioning as a paid flack or moonlight as a U.N. TV host to abandon your role as a journalist and switch over to a knee-jerk defender of the U.N. and its officials when they are criticized. We saw this during the oil-for-food scandal, in which media figures rushed to the defense of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and we see this happening with Tharoor.
But make no mistake about it. Would she act this way if she were a White House correspondent and it really was Scott McClellan who hosted Israel Shamir or perhaps some anti-black or anti-Catholic bigot? Don’t bet on it. This is the U.N. And the U.N. gets a pass.
What You Can Do