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A Manhattan Supreme Court justice has dismissed a $100 million libel lawsuit against the author and publisher of “Primary Colors,” the fictionalized insider account of former President Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. In dismissing the action by Daria Carter-Clark, Justice Richard F. Braun found that, as a work of fiction, the book should not be held to the same investigatory standards as non-fiction work. For that reason, he held in Carter-Clark v. Random House Inc., 122266/96, that Carter-Clark had not shown that her reputation was damaged by the depiction of one of the book’s characters that she said was based on her. “Primary Colors” was a runaway best seller when Random House published it in 1996. Joe Klein, a political columnist for the New Yorker, denied for months that he was the novel’s anonymous author before eventually admitting that he wrote it. After the book was published, Carter-Clark sued both Random House and Klein, claiming she was portrayed as a woman of questionable morals who slept with a politician thinly disguised as President Clinton. The book is about a southern governor named Jack Stanton who is running for president. The sexual encounter occurs between Gov. Stanton and a librarian, Baum, when the governor visits her library in Harlem on a campaign stop. Baum runs an adult literacy program and is on the regional board of the teachers’ union. Stanton reaches out to help Baum when she misses a step on the stairs. Soon after, there is a scene where Gov. Stanton and Baum are coming out of the bedroom of his hotel suite. Stanton is buttoning his open shirt and Baum is “arranging herself,” seeming “a bit dazed” and trying “to maintain the appearance of propriety.” Baum is a minor character who appears in just nine pages of the book. In real life, President Clinton made a campaign stop in 1991 at a Harlem library where Carter-Clark worked. The minimal physical description of “Baum” bears some similarity to Carter-Clark, the court said. But unlike “Baum,” Carter-Clark was a site advisor. She did not run an adult literacy program, nor was she a board member of the teachers’ union. In a prior motion, the parties agreed that Carter-Clark and President Clinton had never had an intimate relationship. In its ruling, the court agreed that “Primary Colors” styled itself as a work of fiction, although Klein admitted it was based on Clinton’s primary campaign. As a work of fiction, the court ruled, the book’s characters “must be so closely akin to the real person claiming to be defamed that a reader of the book, knowing the real person, would have no difficulty linking the two.” The court found no such link. Rather, the similarities between Carter-Clark and the fictional Baum “were inadequate for a reader, even one who knows plaintiff, to reasonably believe that the characterization of Baum in ‘Primary Colors’ was ‘of and concerning’ plaintiff.” The names, jobs and activities of the two did not coincide, the court reasoned, and “the reliance by plaintiff on minimal superficial similarities between her and Baum, and speculative gossip by some people who knew plaintiff,” is not enough to sustain the action. The lawsuit received some media attention late last year when the plaintiff subpoenaed President Clinton to give an account of his visit to the library and confirm that no sexual activity occurred between him and Carter-Clark. Justice Braun ruled that Clinton would not have to appear, since the plaintiff had not shown that he “has anything particularly useful to provide,” since all parties agreed that the two had never been sexually intimate. “No one disputes that this book was inspired by real life as most works of fiction are, but that doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day this is a work of fiction,” said Elizabeth A. McNamara, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine who represented the defendants along with Gregory A. Welch. McNamara said she was particularly pleased that the court recognized “publishers don’t have an obligation to investigate fictional works prior to publication,” in what she said was an issue of first impression. The lawyer for Carter-Clark, Regina L. Darby, was not available for comment.

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