WASHINGTON—“Birther” proponents continued to bang the drum against President Barack Obama Wednesday at the National Press Club in D.C. as they unveiled a $30 million defamation lawsuit against Esquire magazine over an article that said they’d abandoned their cause and backed away from a book supporting their theory.
“This was a serious mistake by Mark Warren [the author of the article] and Esquire for which they will pay dearly,” said Larry Klayman, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case. “It was obviously calculated with malice to destroy not just the book and its sales, but the reputations of Mr. Corsi and Mr. Farah.”
Corsi and Farah are Joseph Farah, who runs the conservative news website World Net Daily and its book publishing arm WND Books, and WND reporter and conspiracy-minded author Jerome Corsi, who’s best known for writing the Swift Boat book that foiled Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Corsi’s latest, which was the subject of the Esquire article, is Where’s the Birth Certificate? The Case That Barack Hussein Obama Is Not Eligible to Be President, which has gone to No. 6 on The New York Times best-seller list for hardcover nonfiction, despite its having been released not long after Obama released his birth certificate.
Given the people and the issue involved, this was not your typical press conference, certainly not your typical press conference about a lawsuit. Instead, it was something of a birther forum—Corsi kicked off the presentation by claiming credit for forcing Obama to release his birth certificate when he did (that meant taking credit away from Donald Trump, who’s relied on Corsi for advice). Then he called the document a forgery and a fraud.
Self-proclaimed Democrat and Hillary Clinton supporter Mara Zebest also spoke, claiming that layers and “pixelation noise” in the Adobe Acrobat file of the birth certificate prove that it is “obviously a fake.”
But there were only three reporters present to hear Zebest’s explanation—and that, in itself, is key to understanding why WND has decided to file suit over the Esquire article. Before Obama released his birth certificate, back when Trump was working the media into a frenzy over the birther issue, Wednesday’s press conference would have been a real draw for reporters. But now the issue is all but dead, and that’s what the Esquire article was about.
On May 18, 2011, Warren, an Esquire executive editor who is also a defendant in the case, reported that Farah had decided to scrap “Where’s the Birth Certificate?” after the president put the controversy to rest by releasing his long-form birth certificate.
“I cannot in good conscience publish it and expect anyone to believe it,” Farah was quoted as saying in an “exclusive interview.”
Warren also wrote that Farah was “rip shit” on April 27, when the president released his record , then called Corsi and “really tore him a new one.”
Roughly an hour and a half later, the magazine’s political blog published an update, announcing, “We committed satire this morning to point out the problems with selling and marketing a book that has had its core premise and reason to exist gutted by the news cycle, several weeks in advance of its publication.”
Warren went on to say that Farah and Corsi refused to admit they were wrong about the “birther” issue and had “doubled down” and stuck to their conspiracy theory “to hold their terribly gullible audience captive to their lies, and to sell books.”
“This is despicable, and deserves only ridicule,” Warren wrote. He added one more kick to the duo when he was quoted on the political website The Daily Caller describing Corsi as an “execrable piece of shit.”
Corsi and Farah charge that their reputations—and the book’s sales—were damaged by the article.
“It was amateurish, it was rank, and it hurt,” said Klayman. “There was nothing stating that it was satire.”
Klayman said that this case was different than the landmark case Falwell v Flynt in which the Supreme Court sided with Hustler publisher Larry Flynt over preacher Jerry Falwell. The high court ruled that a parody advertisement in Hustler in which Falwell is depicted as describing losing his virginity to his mother in an outhouse was protected under the First Amendment.
"It wasn't so unbelievable as what was said about Falwell," said Klayman. "People reasonably assumed that [the Esquire article] was reality. If you were going to have sex, you probably wouldn't choose an outhouse." After being prompted by Adweek, he added, "Or your mother."
Distributors cancelled orders and pulled the books from the shelves, the plaintiffs claim in the suit, though when asked, Farah said only one company had removed the book from its shelves. He could not recall if it was Barnes & Noble or Borders.
He said that 65,000 copies had been published and 65 people had called to complain about Esquire’s coverage.
Klayman also said that the magazine had violated the Lanham Act governing trademark infringement and false advertising. He said that the amount of damage sought would be a proportion of the magazine’s advertising revenue.
“It’s surprising that Mr. Warren has not been disciplined, but he will be disciplined in the context of this case,” said Klayman. “When you hold an individual or individuals out outrageously for ridicule in a community, the statements can even be true, but if you intend to cause harm, then they are actionable.”
Farah said that this was not a case of trying to squelch free speech and opinion, but of protecting the First Amendment.
“We take this action not because we desire to restrict the First Amendment-guaranteed protections, but because we want to police them and guard them,” he said.
Representatives for Esquire said that they had not seen the complaint, but stuck by their story.
"The blog post spoke for itself. It was satire, an age-old and completely legitimate form of expression. Additionally, the piece was tagged as ‘humor,’ as are all of our frequent satire posts on Esquire's Politics Blog. That was not lost on our observant readers," the magazine said in a statement.