Friday, February 4, 2011

Unterberg vs. Carter (Stephen and Jimmy, not Michael and Billy)

Imagine getting an e-mail from your brother with the subject, “I'm suing Jimmy Carter”  and a link to a web article confirming that. That’s what happened to me yesterday.

After a few hours of nudging, I got more of the story. My brother Shmuel has put his name with four others on a class action lawsuit against the former president for his book “Palestine, Peace not Apartheid”, along with publishers Simon & Schuster. Basically the suit alleges that the book violates New York consumer protection law. As an ex-President with decades of involvement in Middle East politics, someone purchasing the book would reasonably expected an honest and fair explanation of the Palestinian conflict with the Israelis. His bias and arguments would have been expected as well. The fact that the book is filled with outrageous lies and omissions means that the consumer was ripped off. The class action suit for $5 million dollars seeks restitution for purchasers of any form of the book.

A Google news search for the name Unterberg turns up articles from JTA and the Jerusalem Post, but also the New York Times, Boston Globe and Washington Post. (as always clicking on the blue hyperlinks should open the corresponding webpage) It seems to have first appeared on the online Jewish Tablet magazine, which gives you a link to a PDF of the court papers.

The papers are a cool thing to read. For me the best part was sections (paragraphs?) 28 to 110, which establish Carter's marketing claims of complete accuracy, followed by a long list of complete falsehoods that he must have been aware of. The complaint compares Carter's book to Frey's "Million Little Pieces" memoir deception, and claims that publishers should sell what they are claiming to sell. That's the law in New York State.

The complaints by Simon and Schuster seem somewhat off the mark. (although they are echoed by the Boston Globe article) The suit is obviously (and explicitly) not an attack on free speech. It is simply an attempt to hold people who exercise that sacred right.

As for the nuisance lawsuit accusation, that may bear out to be true. We'll see what the courts make of it. To me it seems like the manager running out of the dug out to kick dirt on the umpire's shoes after a bad call. The umpire won't change it, but he will probably make future calls more carefully. I have a hard time working up sympathy for the defendants in this case for having to respond legally.

Some have wondered why the case is coming five years after the book was published. I don't know. It could be that they wanted to give the publishers time to publish a corrected edition. Or it could be that they only thought of the idea after Oprah massacred Frey on national television a couple of years ago.
I think my brother is enjoying the mini-hubbub. That's cool, I know that I am. One thing is for sure, though, that book really was a piece of garbage.
Me and my bro, back in the day...

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