Faux First Amendment advocate, Debbie Nathan

April 28, 2016

From Hechler, "Awkward Award, Columbia Journalism Review (Sept/Oct 1990)

From Hechler, “Awkward Award,” Columbia Journalism Review (Sept/Oct 1990)

Debbie Nathan holds herself out as a principled First Amendment advocate. She belongs to the National Writers Union and in 1989, she famously gave Lawrence Stanley, a child pornographer, the Free Press Association’s H. L. Menken Award. In 1994, she wrote an impassioned plea on the Witchhnt-List against the idea of suing the authors of The Courage to Heal. “The First Amendment cannot be sacrificed in the service of ANY cause,” she claimed. If a lawsuit went forward against the book she despises, Nathan said she would “condemn the suit.” Speech should be met with speech, not lawsuits, she said.

It turns out that Nathan’s commitment to free expression and the First Amendment has one glaring exception: it does not extend to those who criticize Nathan’s own work, even in a fully documented, scholarly book. It has been two years since The Witch-Hunt Narrative was published and it’s time to tell the story of how Debbie Nathan tried to prevent its publication. Days before the publication date of the hardcover edition, Nathan sent a libel threat to the publisher. She claimed that she knew she had been libeled by The Witch-Hunt Narrative and she promised to pursue her legal remedies in the US and in England if the book was published. Tellingly, she did not identify a single offending passage. The publisher was not intimidated and the book, which documents extensive errors and omissions in Nathan’s writings, was published without delay. Not surprisingly, Nathan never followed through on her baseless threat to sue. The time for any such suit has expired, but the time has just begun for telling the story of the faux First Amendment advocate who made a phony libel threat to try to stifle criticism of her own work.