Well, well, well, Random House has admitted that the rape, or quasi-rape, that memoirist Lena Dunham said a campus conservative named Barry committed against her was not, in fact, committed by someone named Barry — this, after an actual conservative named Barry who attended college with Dunham protested against the smearing of his reputation. Eugene Volokh says:
Appalling. The book wasn’t a novel; it was a memoir, offered to readers as such. The copyright page, which I suspect few people read, does say that “Some names and identifying details have been changed,” but it certainly doesn’t tell people which ones.
Indeed, early in the book, when she mentions a boyfriend of hers and labels him Jonah, she adds a footnote: “Name changed to protect the truly innocent.” Reasonable readers, it seems to me, reading the rest of the memoir, would assume that “Barry” — whose name wasn’t accompanied with any such footnote — was actually named Barry. Even if not all readers would so conclude, many would, and quite understandably so.
How could Dunham and Random House do this? How could an author and a publisher — again, of a self-described memoir, not a work of fiction — describe a supposed rape by a person, give a (relatively rare) first name and enough identifying details that readers could easily track the person down, and not even mention that “Barry” wasn’t this person’s real name?
The Hollywood Reporter quotes Barry’s lawyer saying:
“We’re not on a warpath,” Minc said. “We’ve been trying to get their attention for months. It took the threat of litigation to make them take action. We have certainly intimated that we think our client is being libeled, but we’ve been trying to be as reasonable as possible. The remedy to solve this issue is not necessarily legal in nature, and we recognize that. A lot of the suffering Barry was going through and was about to go through could be cured by simple, remedial action from Miss Dunham and Random House.”
Sue the bastards. That’s the only way they will learn. Make the publisher withdraw the whole damn book, for which they paid a $3.7 million advance (which they will probably be able to recoup from Dunham; book contracts typically contain language saying that the author guarantees the material to be truthful, if presented as truthful). I bet this Barry will win, too. To prove libel, you have to show that the published material was identifiably about you, that it was untrue, that it harmed your reputation, and that it was published negligently (that is, with a reckless disregard for the truth). In another post, Volokh says that “Identifiable Conservative Barry” has a strong case.
Lawyer up, Lena. This is going to get interesting. Kudos to John Nolte at Breitbart News for his detective work in deconstructing and disproving Dunham’s disgusting allegation. If he hadn’t done that, where would Barry be?
Are we really in a moment when the publishing industry feels that it can smear people as sexual predators long as the smearees are white males who might be fairly accuse of Republican sympathies? Did it even occur to Random House’s editors to wonder if Dunham was telling the truth here, or did they assume that she must be, because everybody knows Republican men are rapists? Just like everybody knows that Southern frat boys gang-rape women at parties, as Rolling Stone told us, sounds like.