A high court in London today ruled that The Daily Telegraph libeled journalist Sarah Thornton in their review of her book Seven Days in the Art World, and ordered that the paper pay her £65,000, plus her legal fees.
The review by Lynn Barber savaged the book and accused Dr. Thornton, a former academic and frequent contributor to The Economist, of falsely claiming to have interviewed Ms. Barber about the Turner Prize, in the endnotes.
Throughout the course of the trial it was revealed that their scheduled interview was clearly detailed by emails they’d sent each other, Dr. Thornton’s notes from the interview and Ms. Barber’s own diary, which read “New Yorker journo who has been pursuing me for weeks rang about the Turner Prize and I was mildly helpful but snotty.”
“Well it’s a huge relief,” Dr. Thornton said on the phone from England. “It’s been a ridiculous battle — all I wanted was a correction, you know!”
“The thing is, I’m not part of the club,” she said, citing her three strikes as a Canadian sociologist on the art world beat. “The British journalistic world is pretty clubby and I’m a little bit of an oddball.”
Ms. Barber — who wrote the essay that became the 2009 movie An Education — also accused Dr. Thornton of allowing her sources to review their quotes, but the Honorable Mr. Justice Tugendhat found that claim to be maliciously false, and the other claim to be libelous, making the correction that ran ten months later too little, too late.
Given the nonstop coverage of the Newscorp scandal, and the fact that she shares a lawyer with the family of Milly Dowler, Ms. Thornton couldn’t help but see connections between her own case and the collapse of the News of the World.
“I think U.K. journalism training is quite different — for the most part you get people who studied English literature, who are frustrated novelists,” Dr. Thornton said. “I think in the American tradition, we love opinions but also there’s a grounded reality and objectivity is not a bad thing. Whereas in the U.K. it’s almost uncool to care about the facts.
“Maybe I’m just not assimilated,” she added.
Ms Barber no longer writes for The Daily Telegraph but she’s landed on her feet — she now writes for The Sunday Times.
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