TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Friday, December 22, 2006

Inside Libel

A big local story is the libel suit brought by members of a Northampton family against Augusten Burroughs, contending that his book Running with Scissors (and the movie) defamed them.  (They have settled the suit related to the movie, but the suit based on the book continues.)  Presumably as part of the effort to get their case in a better spot in the media, the family was interviewed for a Vanity Fair piece, describing, among other things, their reactions to reading the book:

As she continued to read, Theresa says, she found it difficult to fathom the book's malice toward her and her family. It was filled with things that she believed were categorically false or had been wildly embellished. She also could not believe that Burroughs had revealed details about events in her life that had occurred 20 years earlier and had been horribly painful for her—so painful that she had spent years in therapy trying to overcome them and had never told her own daughter about them.

She continued to read that night, occasionally stopping because she simply could not bear to read anymore, she says, only to pick the book up again several minutes later. Sometimes she had to stop to run to the bathroom and vomit. "I have never vomited so much in my life," she says.

The piece also notes:

Burroughs claims he has roughly 20 notebooks in which he kept a journal of his experiences between the ages of 12 and 17 that back up his story, and he says he has continued to keep these journals with him. Family members confirm that Burroughs wrote constantly when they knew him. There is also an extensive public record regarding Dr. Turcotte, a highly controversial psychiatrist whose license to practice medicine was stripped in 1986 due to allegations of deeply disturbing behavior. Additionally, there is an author's note at the beginning of the book saying that "the names and other identifying characteristics of the persons included in this memoir have been changed."

* * *

During an interview with Vanity Fair last March, Burroughs stood by the veracity of the book, just as he stood by the right of every individual in a free society to tell his story. "This is my story," he said. "It's not my mother's story and it's not the family's story, and they may remember things differently and they may choose to not remember certain things, but I will never forget what happened to me, ever, and I have the scars from it and I wanted to rip those scars off of me."

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