Friday, 18 January 2013

Lance Armstrong - The Libel Years

I'm not a Tour de France fan, never have been, never will be. I just don't get the whole lycra /weird helmet /bikes-with-saddles-like-razor-blades thing. In saying that, the Lance Armstrong confession is interesting. Not because of the drugs, and the lies, and the cheating, but because in 2004 Lance Armstrong sued the Sunday Times for claiming he was actually doing the things he has finally admitted to. (here)

As part of his settlement, the Sunday Times issued an apology to Armstrong, but this wasn't a victim-less episode involving a celebrity and a British newspaper. Paul Kimmage and David Walsh who exposed the story were also sued, as well as threatened and abused for telling the truth. Emma O'Reily, (Armstrong's  "soigneur") was also sued and cast as a "drug-using prostitute" by the Armstrong publicity machine, (here) something that cost her not only her job, but also her reputation. 

But Armstrong is not the first person  to take action in the UK for libel only to be well and truly guilty. In 1993 John Major sued the New Statesman and Scallywag Magazine over a story about an alleged affair with Claire Latimer. Major' lawyers claimed that it "was a serious attack on his reputation to accuse him of adultery". In 2002, Major's affair with Edwina Currie was revealed, (here) by which time the guilty parties had walked away leaving a trail of broken reputations in their wake. The New Statesman lost  hundreds of thousands of pounds whilst Scallywag  never recovered, shutting down just two years later. Simon Reagan and Angus James Wilson, Scallywag's founders, both died before it was discovered that they had told the truth. (here) 

Prior to Major two other prominent Tories were to use the UK libel laws to protect their powerful positions. In 1995, Jonathan Aitken sued the Guardian over their report into his business links with the now immortal phrase:

     "If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of fair play, so be it. I am ready for the fight," (here)

Aitken was to wield that "simple sword of truth" by filing a false witness statement from his then teenage daughter. (here)

Jeffrey Archer sued the Daily Star over allegations that he had made payments to Monica Coghlan. Archer won his case, only to be exposed and jailed fourteen years later for what he described as a "silly mistake." (here)   But it wasn't Archer who would pay the biggest price for his "silly mistake" Whilst Archer eventually went to jail, Monica Coghlan would have to live the rest of her short life enduring the taunts and stares as the woman who was accused of giving Jeffry Archer "cold, unloving, rubber-insulated sex in a seedy hotel room". (here)

As I said, the Lance Armstrong case is interesting because it shows how little has changed. The powerful, even when the stain of their guilt is there for us all to see, will do all they can to protect that power, and the real victims who suffer the most, will not necessarily be those that can afford to pay the price for their "silly mistakes".

         "Do you know what I've been through for that liar? Just because he's got power and money..,,.You might be big with words, okay, and I might be a prostitute, but I've never harmed anybody, okay, I've just survived all my life" -  Monica Coghlan 1987

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