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Amazon drops Irving trial book 06 March 2003
Amazon.co.uk has removed from sale "Telling Lies About Hitler" (Verso) by Richard Evans following an approach by David Irving, the discredited historian. The case is a further instance of how retailers can have the defence of innocent dissemination undermined if the subject of a book alleges to them that the book is defamatory.
Professor Evans' book is an account of the libel trial--at which he was the chief defence witness--of Irving against Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt, author of "Denying the Holocaust". Irving lost the case, and was described by the judge as someone who "displayed all the characteristics of an active Holocaust denier". Wm Heinemann, which was to have published "Telling Lies About Hitler", dropped it on legal advice. Verso brought it out last summer.
Amazon.co.uk said: "We will not list 'Telling Lies About Hitler' by Richard Evans or any other book over the objections of someone claiming that the book contains defamatory content, at least not without a commitment by the publisher to defend us in any legal action brought against us under UK law." Gavin Everall, sales and marketing director at Verso, said that he did not want to indemnify a retailer that had already destocked the book. Amazon added that the law as it stood had "a chilling effect on free speech".
_Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich_ was going to be the book that redeemed David Irving's career. Based on his usuual prodigious mining of wartime archives, the book was nearly written when, in the spring of 1992, a German friend told Irving that the complete set of Goebbels's diaries, which had been microfilmed and stored on glass plates, had recently surfaced in the Russian State Archives. Armed with a commission from the _Sunday Times_, Irving raced to Moscow to secure his scoop. Though much of the diaries had already been published, there were substantial gaps, and Irving's "discovery" put him back on the front pages.
Not all publicity is good publicity. Irving's return to prominence courtesy of the _Sunday Times_, which agreed to pay him 75,000 [pounds] to "edit" the Goebbels diaries, sparked a wave of protest from London to New York. The intensity of these protests lost Irving his fee from the _Sunday Times_, who cancelled their agreement; he also lost his American publisher, Scribners, and his British publisher, Macmillian, who not only rejected the Goebbels manuscript but also ordered the remaining stocks of two of his other books destroyed. All of this, it is worth noting, happened before Deborah Lipstadt published a word about David Irving. [Emphasis mine]
Irving's defenders assumed that what he really wanted was a debate with his critics, If that were indeed his objective, all Irving had to do was bide his time. "Someone," Hitchens asserted confidently, "will no doubt pick up where St. Martin's left off."
What Irving did instead was sue Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher for libel in England (where even if she won Lipstadt's costs would amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds). At which point it became rather more difficult to defend the proposition that what was at stake was David Irving's freedom of speech.
Her British experience was rather different. In March 1995 Penguin issued a paperback edition, which sold 2,088 copies in the United Kingdom in its first year. Outside the Jewish press, reviewers ignored it. In 1996, the year Deborah Lipstadt was served with David Irving's writ, net British sales for _Denying the Holocaust_ numbered exactly 21.
D. D. Guttenplan, _The Holocaust on Trial_
It appears that the main threat to freedom of speech is to attempt to publish or sell any work in the UK that is critical of the work of David Irving. Including the massive sales of 2,109 books that "libeled" him.