The perils of praise

'Libel actions are always based on denigration. Nobody has ever sued someone for libel on the grounds that they were far too kind'
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The Independent Online

What I need, I think, is a good libel lawyer. I say this because I have just received a letter that misjudges my character so wildly, and paints so false a picture of the real me, that were it to be published, it would cause me to be held up to ridicule.

What I need, I think, is a good libel lawyer. I say this because I have just received a letter that misjudges my character so wildly, and paints so false a picture of the real me, that were it to be published, it would cause me to be held up to ridicule.

On the other hand, if it is not published, I shall never be able to sue the writer for libel. And make a fortune.

So I am going to take a deep breath and publish as much of this letter as I can, without looking too ridiculous.

It comes from a woman called Cathryn C Cranston, who is unknown to me, but describes herself as a Publisher, and this is what her letter says:

"Dear Mr Kington,

Your career isn't just about money, is it? I didn't think so. It's about something deeper.

"Something so central to your core, to what makes you tick, that you can't imagine living without it.

"It's about leadership. Having your say. Making things happen. Putting your stamp on the future.

"For over 75 years, one publication has stood out from the crowd as the most indispensable resource for business achievers like you. The same publication that was judged 'the most influential magazine in America' in an Erdos & Morgan/MPC survey of 1,700 opinion leaders.

" Harvard Business Review.

"Only an elite corps of business professionals gets a chance to subscribe to Harvard Business Review. With this letter, I am pleased to extend the invitation to you, along with a valuable free gift."

Now, people who know me well, and even people who know me badly, will testify that this is an outrageously distorted picture of me. Not only am I not in an elite corps of business professionals, I am not a business professional on the lower rungs. I have no idea who Erdos is, or his friend Morgan, or their partners MPC. I do not know what an opinion leader is, or even how you lead an opinion. Business professional? Business amateur would be an over-kind description.

As for leadership, and making things happen, and having my say, and putting my stamp on the future – well, the pattern of my life has depended largely on my not having these qualities. At meetings, I am the one who stares into the distance and would plainly prefer to be somewhere else. When people toss for sides, I usually lend the coin rather than join either gang. At dinner parties, when people passionately tear into each other over the comparative cruelty of angling and fox hunting, or Iraq, or whether architecture is an art or a trade, I am the one who listens and makes notes and copies down other people's best remarks and fills up my wine glass when everyone is talking and no one is looking.

But if it were to be thought that my career is not about money, and that really deep down, central to my core, is an obsession with making things happen, then people would look at me very differently. They would look to me for leadership and an example. They would elect me standard bearer and follow me into battle. Their lives would be ruined. I don't care about that. Mine would be, too. I care about that deeply.

And that is why, before it is too late, I must stop the Harvard Business Review in its tracks. I must initiate libel proceedings against them. I must dispute their vile and lying description of me before people get to hear of it and either believe it, which would be disastrous, or make mock of me over it, which would be extremely hurtful. Yes, I must become the first person who ever sued someone for uttering a flattering libel. All libel actions in the past have been based on denigration and accusations of calumny. Nobody has ever sued someone for libel on the grounds that they were far too kind. Jeffrey Archer, for instance, never sued anyone for calling him 100 per cent honest and truthful, though he would undoubtedly have won the action.

The only thing that deters me is that the action is self-defeating. If I leap into action against the Harvard Business Review's inaccurate and unfair picture of me, and sue them for libel, their defence will be that now I am making things happen, that I am having my say, that I am putting my stamp on the future, and that I am therefore leadership material.

Oh, dear.

I am not sure what to do.

If only I had leadership qualities.

Or, at the very least, a good libel lawyer.

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