Tell-It-All on the Mountain
Stephanie Green, a former researcher for Star magazine, has won a lawsuit filed against her
by American Media Inc., which was attempting to stop Green from publishing a novel inspired by her days working for the tabloid. (Star is owned by AMI.) The suits at AMI alleged that they needed to screen a copy of the manuscript in order to determine whether Green had violated confidentiality and "non-disparagement" clauses in her employment contract. The judge ruled that AMI didn't have cause to sue; AMI says it plans an appeal.
Here's what the case is really about: Green is hinting (pretty explicitly) that her book is based on infamous Star editor Bonnie Fuller, a legendary editorial tyrant who has dragged down the quality—and pumped up the sales—of every magazine she's ever worked for (and probably some she hasn't). AMI wants to protect its celebrity editor.
Let us consider some of the ironies in this situation.
First, you have a media company suing to prevent the publication of a novel
Second, the media company in question happens to be the obtainer and purveyor of celebrity dirt which, one hopes, is far juicier than anything one could write about a mere editor.
And third, if a celebrity lawyer insisted upon pre-publication review of an article about his/her client, American Media would presumably tell that lawyer where to go.
But never mind all this. More important than irony, this is another example of the invidious proliferation of confidentiality agreements in the world of business and media. It's well-known that I've had my own troubles with such agreements, and I've argued in print
that they're tools employed by the rich and powerful to intimidate and silence the less rich and less powerful. Many of these agreements are simply intended to scare people out of exercising their First Amendment rights. Imagine if Microsoft created computer viruses aimed at annihilating shareware.
Remember—American Media sued to stop this woman from writing a work of fiction
. Apparently they thought it would contain much truth. (Which is another irony, because most people would say that American Media publishes non-fiction, little of which is true. )
That the book in question isn't substantively important doesn't matter. The fact that a media company sued a writer to stop her from writing a novel should alarm every one who values a free press. AMI should drop its appeal, and Green should go ahead and sell her book.