The major claim of libel from the use of “replicates” in Freakonomics was thrown out because it could reasonably be constructed to have an innocent meaning; a smaller claim regarding Levitt’s accusations in an e-mail to a single person in response to a solicited query remain. John Lott’s link to the decision suggests a world where he isn’t going to give up even on the first claim, but that decision is soundly based on the recent precedent in Knafel v. Chicago Sun-Times, 413 F.3d 637 (7th Cir. 2005), a case of relevance to Overlawyered. In Knafel, columnist Richard Roeper criticized a woman suing Michael Jordan over an affair that they had:
In other words, you had sex with a famous, wealthy man, and you claim he promised to pay you $5 million to keep quiet about it, and now you want your money.
Knafel was once an aspiring singer. She’s now reportedly a hair designer. But, based on the money she’s been paid already and the additional funds she’s seeking in exchange for her affair with Jordan, she’s making herself sound like someone who once worked in a profession that’s a lot older than singing or hair designing.
Knafel sued over the column; the court noted that “Roeper almost certainly refers to prostitution when he talks about an ‘older’ profession,” but held that the possibility of an innocent construction permitted a motion to dismiss. (See also Media Law Prof blog from 2005.) And that passage was significantly less ambiguous than that in Lott’s case.