Could Penn Stater’s Lawsuit Kill America’s Leading Conservative Magazine?

Michael Mann's defamation suit might empty the coffers of National Review.

There is growing talk that a defamation lawsuit by Penn State scientist Michael Mann could kill of National Review, the magazine founded by William F. Buckley back in the 1950s one of the creators of the modern conservative movement.

How could this happen? Well, to recap: Back in 2012, National Review contributing writer Mark Steyn referred to Mann—a climate scientist—as the “Jerry Sandusky of climate change,” quoting another conservative writer in accusing Mann of manipulating data to prove the existence of climate change, and Penn State’s administration for covering up:

Michael Mann was the man behind the fraudulent climate-change “hockey-stick” graph, the very ringmaster of the tree-ring circus. And, when the East Anglia emails came out, Penn State felt obliged to “investigate” Professor Mann. Graham Spanier, the Penn State president forced to resign over Sandusky, was the same cove who investigated Mann. And, as with Sandusky and Paterno, the college declined to find one of its star names guilty of any wrongdoing.

If an institution is prepared to cover up systemic statutory rape of minors, what won’t it cover up? Whether or not he’s “the Jerry Sandusky of climate change”, he remains the Michael Mann of climate change, in part because his “investigation” by a deeply corrupt administration was a joke.

Mann sued National Review for defamation. He’s won some early procedural skirmishes in the lawsuit so far. And that’s led to this point:

And National Review’s interest could be fighting for its continued existence. As Damon Linker first noted in The Week, it’s unlikely the magazine could afford a payout, or even a protracted legal battle. Until recently, National Review Online was displaying an appeal for contributions to a legal defense fund for Mann’s lawsuit. As Steyn said, the defendants had already lost, by having to spend 15 months of time and money on the case. But he didn’t see the magazine’s demise as likely. “In a turbulent world, a lot of things could potentially doom National Review,” he said, “but this frivolous suit won’t be one of them.”

Linker elaborates:

Now, the lawsuit may well be dismissed down the road. But the longer it continues, the more likely it becomes that Mann will eventually prevail, either by forcing an expensive settlement or by prevailing in court and winning a substantial penalty from the defendants.

It’s doubtful that National Review could survive either outcome. Small magazines often lose money and only rarely manage to break even. They certainly don’t have substantial legal budgets, let alone cash to cover an expensive payout. Indeed, in 2005, Buckley said the magazine had lost $25 million over 50 years.