BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're back with On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. This week a key proponet of the U.S. war in Iraq stepped down from his post at the helm of the Defense Policy Board, an influential body of mainly ex-government officials that consult with the Pentagon. Richard Perle resigned in response to a series of critical reports touched off earlier this month by a piece in the New Yorker. That story raised questions about Perle's dealing with a pair of Saudi businessman and suggested that he might have been trying to benefit financially from a war in Iraq. Perle immediately went on the offensive, likening its author, Seymour Hersh, to a terrorist and threatening to sue him for libel. Now Richard Perle is an American citizen living in America; his quarrel is with Hersh who also lives and works in America. But Perle plans to sue in England! Joining us to explain what is driving Perle across the ocean is David Hooper, a London lawyer who specializes in libel law. Mr. Hooper, welcome to OTM!
DAVID HOOPER: Thank you very much.
BOB GARFIELD: First of all, tell me again how he can sue in London?
DAVID HOOPER: What he will say is that a number of copies of the New Yorker are on sale in this country. I think it's about 10,000 as opposed to the million that are sold in the USA, but I mean it is quite ridiculous that he brings a claim here. Such libel as there may have been concerned Americans' conversations and events that happened anywhere other than in England -either in France or in the United States, and it's straightforward libel tourism.
BOB GARFIELD:Before he resigned, Perle was the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, and enough of a public figure to make a libel case in the United States flimsy at best. So what's the attraction of British libel law that would make him embark on this particular type of libel tourism.
DAVID HOOPER: Well the real attraction would be that whereas in the States he would have to show that Seymour Hersh had deliberately published something false which obviously he wouldn't be able to do, here he would be able to require Seymour Hersh to prove that the particular events written about were true, and the burden of proof would be on Sy.
BOB GARFIELD:Now this is not a new development. There have been a number of previous cases involving Americans who have taken their libel actions to British courts. How prevalent is this libel tourism?
DAVID HOOPER: It's pretty prevalent at the moment. I mean there -- the great growth industry now seems to be Russians who have come here with extremely checkered reputations.
BOB GARFIELD:Let me ask you one question. I don't mean to be disrespectful but as long as people are suing in London for articles published overseas, that's quite a cash cow for you, is it not, if the London courts become a little more restrictive in accepting these cases, are you going to be a little disappointed?
DAVID HOOPER: Well it's always said that a certain amount of crocodile tears are shed by our libel lawyers about how harsh our libel laws are, but I do defense work, and one does see firsthand the enormous problems and resources and money and time that has to go into it, because it's a serious matter for the journalist, and I mean there are plenty of other ways we can earn our living. One of the problems one has in countries that have very harsh libel laws is that the politicians actually quite like the harsh libel laws; I'm sure there would be a lot of American politicians who would quite like to see more curbs on the press there and for it not to be liberty all. So it's quite difficult getting fundamental changes of libel laws.
BOB GARFIELD:Will there come a point when British jurists just say enough is enough -- we really don't want to be a libel haven for American plaintiffs. Are they being more scrupulous in how they decide to handle these cases?
DAVID HOOPER: Well I think it's coming that way, because the problem is that with the internet and with the greater circulation of information, I think everything is published everywhere, and I think there is a very strong possibility that if Richard Perle did bring an action here, that the court would just say go back to America with it. The other thing that Mr. Perle might like to bear in mind is that the last person who sued Sy Hersh in this country came off very much second best; that was Robert Maxwell. I actually happened to be acting for Sy in that case. And in fact Sy in a very spirited way counterclaimed against Maxwell and he won on his counterclaim, and Maxwell and his company had to pay him six figure damages for damages to Sy's reputation. Sy of course wouldn't have sued in the first place, but I think Mr. Perle wants to think carefully before he sues.
BOB GARFIELD: David Hooper, thank you very much.
DAVID HOOPER: Well it's been a great pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD: David Hooper is a solicitor specializing in libel law. He joined us from studios in London. [MUSIC]