In a London court, Vanity Fair argued that Roman Polanski had no reputation left to defend.
Now it’s editor Graydon Carter‘s reputation that may need defending.
The magazine took a hit when a London court ruled July 22 that Polanski — who testified by videolink from Paris — was libeled by an anecdote in a 2002 story that alleged he promised Norwegian beauty Beatte Telle that he would make her “another Sharon Tate.”
The magazine reported Polanski delivered the line during a stopover en route to the funeral for Tate, who was murdered by the Manson family.
It also reported Telle was Swedish. Both assertions turned out to be false; the exchange at Elaine’s must have occurred some time after the funeral, the magazine testified.
Vanity Fair based its defense on what seemed to be fairly solid tenets: first, that the then-33-year-old anecdote, related by Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham, was true; and second, that even if it wasn’t, Polanski’s reputation could be dragged no lower due to his well-documented bad behavior.
(Polanski admitted to infidelity during his marriage to Tate and to resuming the sexcapades four weeks after her death.)
But in making both arguments, the magazine may have inadvertently weakened its case. If they were so certain Lapham’s anecdote was true, why make a case of Polanski’s reputation anyway?
And Vanity Fair never called the one witness perhaps best positioned to settle the dispute: Telle, who reportedly is living in Oslo.
The $87,000 judgment, part of a legal bill estimated at $2 million, is a sharp rebuke for a mag that had been riding high after winning, and then protecting, the ultimate scoop: the unmasking of Mark Felt as “Deep Throat.”
Carter is being instructed by the mag’s counsel not to talk about the verdict, lest Polanski again be inspired to protect his reputation in the British courts.