Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Next Chapter of the Figes Affair

Last Tuesday, I told the story here about Dr. Rachel Polonsky's suspicions that the brutal review of her latest book on Amazon.com had come from a colleague at Birkbeck College, London: Professor Orlando Figes. Polonsky investigated numerous nasty reviews by "Historian" of other writers and came to the conclusion that the well-regarded Figes was anonymously sabotaging his competition.

When Polonsky's theory was made public by another academic, Oxford University's Robert Service, Professor Figes first denied the accusations and then threatened legal action. When his attorney came forward on April 16th to announce that the identity of the real culprit was Figes' wife, barrister Stephanie Palmer, the academic world was stunned. And more than a few historians were also disbelieving.

Yesterday my friend and fellow writer Kaz Augustin alerted me to the next chapter of this sordid little saga.

The announcement by David Price, Figes' attorney, that the writer's wife was responsible for the poison pen reviews did not stop the controversy. The London Times had two articles on the subject the following Wednesday. Both focussed on Figes' effort through his attorney to silence the story. Price had contacted both the Times and Professor Service to threaten legal action in which Figes would demand damages. The first was here in the entertainment section:
It has unfortunately been the case for many years that Figes’s standing as a historian is matched by a reputation for rushing to law when feeling under attack. Readers might recall a previous quarrel with Polonsky, which began in the TLS ... and ended in legal proceedings. Now, David Price, Figes’s lawyer, was threatening to sue anyone who connected him to Historian’s reviews.
The second article appeared here in the TLS [Times Literary Supplement] and was written by Sir Peter Stothard, its editor:
Professor Figes's lawyer not only attempted to gain silence and his costs from newspapers ... He attempted on behalf of his client to suppress the wholly legitimate questions of one of that client's more distinguished colleagues and, still worse, to point out the financial risk of libel damage that this colleague risked by refusing to comply with his demands.
Two days later, Figes finally acknowledged he was responsible for the savage online reviews. The Guardian reported here:
He described a state of panic when he first saw the email sent by Service, which made him instruct his lawyer "without thinking this through rationally.

"This escalated the situation," he said, "and brought more pressure on myself by prompting a legal response. My wife loyally tried to save me and protect our family at a moment of intense stress when she was worried about my health. I owe her an unreserved apology."
The Huffington Post quoted Figes here:
"I am ashamed of my behavior, and don't entirely understand why I acted as I did," he said. "It was stupid – some of the reviews I now see were small-minded and ungenerous but they were not intended to harm. This crisis has exposed some health problems, though I offer that more as explanation than excuse. I need some time now to reflect on what I have done and the consequences of my actions with medical help."
The last time I looked, medicine had not yet found a way to transplant a conscience.

1 comment:

Bernita said...

"The last time I looked, medicine had not yet found a way to transplant a conscience."

Well said!