A story crossed my desk this week which reminded me that Knopf isn’t the only division of Penguin Random House which neglect its fact-checking responsibilities.
Business Insider reports that Penguin was fined $30,000 AUD by an Australian consumer protection agency for publishing Belle Gibson’s book The Whole Pantry.
As you may recall from when the scandal broke last year, Australian social media personality Belle Gibson had claimed that she had beaten terminal brain cancer through a holistic diet. Penguin published a book of recipes by Gibson in the US and Australia, and then pulled it after that was revealed to be a lie (one of many lies told by Gibson).
From Business Insider:
Publishing giant Penguin Australia has been fined $30,000 by Consumer Affairs Victoria for publishing Belle Gibson’s book The Whole Pantry. The money will go to the Victorian Consumer Law Fund in a humiliating rebuke to the publisher for failing to fact-check the cookbook, as part of an enforceable undertaking from Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV).
CAV concluded that Penguin Australia engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and made false and misleading representations in breach of the Australian Consumer Law by publishing The Whole Pantry.
Gibson’s cancer hoax was uncovered after an investigation revealed that she had repeatedly lied about raising and donating funds to charities.
Surprisingly, I can find no evidence that she has been charged with a crime (fraud, manslaughter, and practicing medicine without a license would seem to fit). Gibson was investigated, however, and she’s facing a million-dollar civil suit brought by Consumer Affairs Victoria.
Penguin Random House got off comparatively easy, although their legal battles might not be over just yet. Gibson claimed that the right diet could cure cancer, and if anyone died after following her advice in the cookbook then Penguin might be liable.
A wrongful death suit brought by a relative of one of Gibson’s victims could cost Penguin hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees or a settlement. The outcome of that suit would depend on exactly what Penguin said about the cookbook when promoting it, of course, but I wouldn’t assume the publisher is in the clear.
Remember, in 2014 HarperCollins lost a $1.8 million defamation suit brought by former governor Jesse Ventura for its role in publishing and promoting Chris Kyle’s novel, American Sniper. Kyle had claimed to have punched Ventura in a bar fight, and HC execs had used that story to promote the book. (Needless to say, that fight was a fabrication.)
Penguin could be facing a similar situation.