Mark Steyn’s self-destructive streak

As a longtime fan of Steyn’s writing, I’m disappointed to see him doing pretty much everything you should never do when you’re the defendant in a defamation suit:

In 2012—after writers for National Review and a prominent conservative think tank accused him of fraud and compared him to serial child molester Jerry Sandusky—climate scientist Michael Mann took the bold step of filing a defamation suit. The defendants moved to have the case thrown out, citing a Washington, DC, law that shields journalists from frivolous litigation. But on Wednesday, DC Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg rejected the motion, opening the way for a trial.


Weisberg’s order is just the latest in a string of setbacks that have left the climate change skeptics’ case in disarray. Earlier this month, Steptoe & Johnson, the law firm representing National Review and its writer, Mark Steyn, withdrew as Steyn’s counsel. According to two sources with inside knowledge, it also plans to drop National Review as a client.

The lawyers’ withdrawal came shortly after Steyn—a prominent conservative pundit who regularly fills in as host of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show—publicly attacked the former judge in the case, Natalia Combs Greene, accusing her of “stupidity” and “staggering” incompetence. Mann’s attorney, John B. Williams, suspects this is no coincidence. “Any lawyer would be taken aback if their client said such things about the judge,” he says. “That may well be why Steptoe withdrew.”

Steyn’s manager, Melissa Howes, acknowledged that his commentary “did not go over well.”But Steyn maintains it was his decision to part ways with his attorneys.


…on Christmas Eve, Steyn published his blog post, railing against Combs Greene and her ruling, which contained typographical errors and mixed up the defendants:

Among her many staggering incompetences, DC Superior Court judge Natalia Combs-Greene…denied NR’s motion to dismiss the fraudulent complaint while simultaneously permitting Mann’s lawyers to file an amended complaint.

The appellate judges have now tossed out anything relating to Mann’s original fraudulent complaint, including Judge Combs-Greene’s unbelievably careless ruling in which the obtuse jurist managed to confuse the defendants, and her subsequent ruling in which she chose to double-down on her own stupidity. Anything with Combs-Greene’s name on it has now been flushed down the toilet of history.

When asked about these comments, Steyn made no apologies. “I spent the first months attempting to conceal my contempt for Judge Combs Greene’s court,” he said in an email to Mother Jones. “But really, it’s not worth the effort.” Wednesday’s ruling affirms the thrust of Combs Greene’s order, however. It also concludes that “a reasonable jury is likely to find the statement that Dr. Mann ‘molested and tortured data’ was false, and published with knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard for whether it was false or not.”

Steyn, meanwhile, appears to be paying a price for his brazenness. He still has no legal representation. (“My check from the Koch brothers seems to have been lost in the mail or intercepted by the NSA,” he wrote. “So for the moment I am representing myself.”) And since his Christmas Eve diatribe, the conservative pundit—who had been writing near-daily posts for National Review Online—hasn’t written a single item. Neither he nor the magazine’s publisher, Jack Fowler, would say why. But Steyn hinted at the reasons in a post on his website: “As readers may have deduced from my absence at National Review Online and my termination of our joint representation, there have been a few differences between me and the rest of the team.”

The future of National Review itself could now be in jeopardy because of this lawsuit.  There appear to be conflicting stories about whether Steyn fired his lawyers or whether they withdrew from the case, but I know that if my client insisted on talking about the case at all – much less writing a blog post insulting the judge – I’d be advising him to seek other legal counsel immediately.

I wish Steyn and his (former?) magazine well, but it’s almost like he’s determined to lose.  What a pity.

9 thoughts on “Mark Steyn’s self-destructive streak

  1. Bruce says:

    The Linker piece appears to be more fantasy than fact. For example, he never mentions that National Review has libel insurance, which is pretty basic information for a piece alleging a libel lawsuit threatens to put the magazine out of business. How do we know they have insurance? Because NR publisher Jack Fowler says they have it.

    Likewise the gratuitous comparison modern conservatives with the John Birch Society, which was excommunicated from the conservative movement by William F. Buckley because their leader claimed that:

    “America’s government leaders—including President Dwight Eisenhower, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, CIA Director Allen Dulles, and most members of the Supreme Court—were active Communist agents. Buckley was also distressed by other Birch claims: that Red Chinese armies were massing at the Mexican border to invade the U.S.; University of Chicago professors were plotting to deprive Americans of their rights to vote and hold property; and elite groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations and the Bildergbergers were seeking to merge the U.S. with the Soviet Union in a one-world socialist government.”

    Linker states, the “ideological descendants of the Birchers” are the “conservative movement’s most passionate supporters and foot soldiers.” Really? That’s the sort of bizarre claim one might expect to read in the Daily Kos or hear from an MSNBC talking head, and it tells you more about the author of the piece than about the modern conservative movement.

  2. Timothy Denton says:

    My answer to your blog posting was to send Mark Steyn $100US. And I recommend that you do so too.There is more at stake here than playing nice before the fatuous DC Superior Court Judge Natalia Combs-Green, who has been reprimanded judicially before now for impatience and bullying in court.
    She is another case of over-promoted affirmative action, in action.


  3. Veritas says:


    I used to work in an organization that specialized in pre emptive surrender. Turned out that if you were employed you had to have your brain and spine removed. Somehow I escaped and found a more honorable calling as a tax collector, used car salesman, or lawyer, I can’t exactly recall which. But it does my heart good to see that you have all the qualifications my former employer requires in spades. A man fights his battles. But those who consel pre emptive surrender and assuming a kneeling position, well it speaks for itself.

  4. Bruce says:

    In general, I agree that a person who dispenses with counsel for litigation is a fool, but Steyn may actually be doing something very smart here. National Review has insurance and relatively deep pockets. If they need it, there are benefactors who will doubtless step in and subsidize further litigation.

    Successful though he may be, I doubt Steyn has the kind of resources necessary for prolonged litigation of this sort. By forgoing counsel, at least for the present, he is in essence getting a free ride from his co-defendant, National Review.

    An interesting question is who is paying Mann’s counsel?

  5. Kevin says:

    I have now purchased a couple of books from Steyn, hoping it helps him some. I’ve been in lawsuits, one taken all the way to court, and I know that one ought to listen to the advice of counsel carefully, but still must make one’s own decisions in the end. Since Mr. Steyn is prone to speak out, which is his best trait, he ought to choose when to do so carefully in this context; but this does not mean he remain silent. I find it troubling that Mann’s lawsuit is allowed to proceed because doing so maximizes the damage it does to free speech and the press–that is collateral damage, and I always thought one purpose of the law is to limit such.

  6. Jerome says:

    I see the validity of your concerns. I have sent Steyn money, and will be sending him more. I urge others to do the same. I will point out that Mann’s “analysis” has been shown to be mathematically unjustifiable, and also to have the effect of introducing a “hockey-stick” into almost any initial data fed into it. “molesting and torturing data” is a fair description of such a process, and I expect there will be substantial expert testimony to that effect, which a jury will have to ignore if they are to find in Mann’s favor.

  7. Danny Melvin says:

    Considering that people who dismiss AGW, mostly free-market conservatives, have largely succeeded in trashing the reputation of people like Dr. Mann, I think that this was a long time in coming. To outright accuse him of academic fraud is not a free speech issue, it is something that may well have substantially ruined his academic reputation without any proof of misconduct on Dr. Mann’s part, I do believe that he (and others) has (have) grounds for a lawsuit on that basis.

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