Press Box

Richard Perle Libel Watch: The Final Hours

In Week 52, will Perle file suit against Hersh tomorrow or wuss out?

This is it! Richard N. Perle has just hours left to file his threatened libel suit against Seymour M. Hersh in England before the one-year statute of limitations expires. Perle made the threat almost a year ago in the pages of the New York Sunafter the March 10, 2003, publication of Hersh’s investigative feature, “Lunch With the Chairman,” in The New Yorker.

Assuming that English courts would interpret the March 10, 2003, appearance of Hersh’s piece on The New Yorker’s Web site as the relevant date of publication, we’re just hours away from Perle’s firm threat turning flaccid. Yet Perle is still growling about Hersh. In an interview broadcast March 7 on C-SPAN’s Booknotes, Perle avoids the “L” word but accuses Hersh of making untrue allegations about him and his business dealings, implying that he violated conflict–of-interest statutes and regulations.

Perle insists that an investigation by the Department of Defense inspector general exonerated him of any wrongdoing. Well, that’s sort of the case, but let’s read the fine print. According to a Nov. 15, 2003, Associated Press story, the ethics laws in question don’t kick in until an individual has worked 60 days at Defense. Because Perle’s Defense Policy Board labors amounted to just eight days a year, the inspector general found that the laws didn’t apply to Perle.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who requested the inspector general investigation, told the AP, “While the IG concluded this course of behavior did not technically violate the law … it is clear too that his conduct constitutes a breach of faith with the American people.” Conyers has vowed to introduce legislation to close what he calls the “conflict-of-interest loopholes” in the current rules.

Hersh stuck to his guns last night (March 8) on CNBC, saying he doesn’t think much of the inspector general’s “investigation”:

It seems to me if somebody wanted to do a … thorough investigation, they might have talked to me about it, some of the investigators. I never heard from anybody in the government, although it’s pretty clear I had quite a bit of information. He was dealing with some Saudi—very wealthy Saudi people and trying to raise money for a privately held company he had that was in the security business—you know, the homeland security business.

But back to the libel suit: English law being what it is, a court there might consider the day The New Yorker first appeared on English newsstands (presumably sometime later in the week of March 10, 2003) as the date of publication and a fresh cause for action, which would give Perle a couple more days to file. Alternatively, as my UK legal beagles advise me, an English court might regard every download of the Hersh article from the magazine’s Web site a “publication” and a fresh cause of action. If that were the case, Perle could sue as long as the piece was on the Web site, and he’d have another year to file starting the day The New Yorker removed it from the Web.

Are you ready for another year of the Perle Libel Watch?

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