The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

February 4, 2013
Rise & Opine: Lance Armstrong lied - should readers sue?

Rise & Opine offers opinions on opinions about California three times a week.

Sacramento political consultant Rob Stutzman has received lots of attention for his class-action lawsuit against Lance Armstrong, alleging the disgraced cyclist and his publishers knew or should have known his inspiration books "were works of fiction."

Stutzman has received a healthy amount of ribbing from his cohorts in town, with one Democratic consultant tweeting that he plans to file suit against Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meg Whitman (former clients of Stutzman) because their books were less than truthful. More recently, with the blackout at the Super Bowl last night, some are asking on Twitter if Stutzman plans to file a class action lawsuit against the Superdome.

Yet beyond the jokes are serious questions about how far readers should go in attempting to hold authors accountable for mistruths, especially when lots of money was made from alleged lies.

Ian Crouch explores that issue on the New Yorker blog, not in way that is very favorable to Stutzman. Crouch, for instance, offers this passage:

Stutzman, an apparent bibliophobe, was tricked into eagerly reading an entire book, then conned into actually liking it, and finally was compelled to make an utter ass of himself by recommending this now manifestly fiction-filled book to his friends.

Crouch also notes that similar lawsuits have been filed against authors of memoirs who have been less than truthful, such as Greg Mortenson with his disputed memoir "Three Cups of Tea." Although none of the lawsuits he sites have so far been successful, he has sympathy with readers who have been inspired by a memoir and then let down when its author is less than heroic.

He ends with this observation:

In a funny twist, the Lance Armstrong memoir that would be worth reading, and really parsing and getting upset about or arguing about, would be the one he would write tomorrow, or next year.

But it is unlikely to happen.

Defiance is the character trait that helped make him a good cyclist, a good cheater, and a captivating spokesman for cancer research. It doesn't make for much of a memoirist.

My take? I'd love it if Stutzman would bulldog the Armstrong lawsuit, and then seek a settlement that requires Lance to pen a reasonably honest memoir, as much as we could expect from a serial liar.

None of us should embrace frivolous lawsuits, but when legitimate ones help uncover something close to the truth, we all win.

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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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