Art Authenticator Sues The New Yorker, Claiming Profile Defamed Him
from the this-could-get-interesting dept
Last year, we wrote about a fascinating (and very long) New Yorker piece by David Grann all about famed art authenticator, Peter Paul Biro. What struck us as interesting about the story was the way in which mere claims of “science” can get people to not necessarily explore some details further. Also, it was just a well-written story, and acted as a nice contrast to a documentary (in which Biro appears) called Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?. If you have the time, I suggest watching both the movie and reading the story.
I wouldn’t have thought much more about it, but we started to notice some odd comments on that original post soon after it went up, with people making rather nasty claims against David Grann. In fact, there were three comments in close proximity to each other, each from different “names” but all having the same IP address, as identified by the little icons next to their names. Even if it was three different people posting from the same router/computer, the fact that they were all so interested in the story seemed curious. It got weirder still when one of them claimed that my headline was defamatory, and then started posting additional claims of other publications being forced to issue corrections or changes to the story. When asked if this person, “Elizabeth” had any direct interest in the story, she denied it, but the singular infatuation with the story certainly raised some questions. We also thought it was interesting that she would accuse us of defamation, when one of the people commenting from her same IP address made all sorts of very direct, and quite possibly defamatory, claims about David Grann, including that he was a “drunkard.” There was also the hilarious claim that some organization I’ve never heard of gave The New Yorker (in general) a “70% accuracy rating.” I have no idea what that means, but this “Elizabeth” insisted that it meant, definitively, that 30% of every article was made up. Interesting use of statistics.
Either way, it seemed like there was some sort of effort under way, no matter how amateurish, to claim that Grann’s article was not at all accurate. And, now we may get to see some actual evidence either way, because Peter Paul Biro has officially sued Conde Nast and Grann for defamation.
Biro says Grann’s 16,000-word article, “purports to be an in-depth study of the science of forensic examination of art works, and of the use of fingerprint technology to advance that science.” But, Biro says, “It is nothing of the sort, but rather a false and defamatory screed against plaintiff, written and published with malice and an indifference to the standards of responsible journalism.
“The article relies to a significant extent on anonymous sources, many of whom are no longer alive, and repeats defamatory statements made by those sources.
“Through selective omission, innuendo and malicious sarcasm, the article paints a portrait of plaintiff which has no bases in reality, and which has been highly damaging to his reputation.
“The intent of the article is apparent from the very subtitle, which implies that plaintiff finds fingerprints where they do not exist, and which represents an editorial attempt to prejudice the reader in advance of the narrative which follows.”
I figure this could make for an interesting trial. The bar to proving defamation for a public persona, as Biro clearly is, is pretty high. And despite the claims of “Elizabeth,” The New Yorker actually has one of the best reputations around when it comes to fact checking. Perhaps there’s something more that will come out during the trial, but I’d guess that it’ll be difficult to get the defamation claim to stick.