In April of 2008, Jared Diamond (Pulitzer-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel) published an article in The New Yorker that detailed the decades-long feuds and vengeance killings among the clans of the New Guinea highlands. He focused in particular on Handa clan member Daniel Wemp, a violent warrior whose drive to avenge his uncle’s death “touched off six years of warfare leading to the slaughter of 47 people and the theft of 300 pigs.”
But now Wemp is suing the magazine’s publisher, Advance Publications (parent company of Condé Nast), for $10 million, claiming that Diamond’s account falsely accused Wemp and a fellow tribesman of “serious criminal activity” and “murder.” Sounds damaging — except Wemp previously claimed Diamond’s account was true. Huh?
To explain: Before Wemp ever filed suit, the Art Science Research Lab and their ethical project, stinkyjournalism.org, sponsored an independent fact-checking of Diamond’s article, which they dispute after
dispatching their own enlisting independent researchers in New Guinea to interview some 40 anthropologists. They’re planning to release a 40,000-word study tentatively titled “Jared Diamond’s Factual Collapse: The New Yorker’s Papua New Guinea Revenge Tale Untrue.” But there’s a major catch: In an interview with the researchers, Wemp told them that “the stories he told Diamond were in fact true” information was correct (leave it to those pesky academics to get involved and make things complicated).
Despite Wemp’s admission, the lab is soldiering forth with their report, and now there’s the lawsuit. Why bother with all of this if the plaintiff already said Diamond got it right? Wemp’s legal adviser, Mako John Kuwimb, has the defense:
“When foreigners come to our culture, we tell stories as entertainment. Daniel’s stories were not serious narrative, and Daniel had no idea he was being interviewed for publication.”
The New Yorker stands by its work. Kuwimb, however, adds that Wemp “has never killed anyone or raped a woman. He certainly has never stolen a pig.” Perhaps, but you can bet The New Yorker’s august fact-checking department isn’t about to be taken down by a disputed pig theft.