A former columnist for The New York Times can pursue his defamation claim against a company that produced a film based on an article penned by his former wife that portrays him as a philanderer, a Manhattan judge has ruled.
Randy Cohen, who formerly wrote “The Ethicist” column for The New York Times Magazine, said he was defamed by the trailer for the film “Learning to Drive,” which is based on an article that his ex-wife Katha Pollitt—who is not a party to Cohen’s suit—wrote for The New Yorker.
In the trailer, a book critic allegedly based on Pollitt tells her daughter: “Instead of buying a motorcycle, daddy decided to give adultery a spin.”
Also in the trailer, which says that the film is based on a true story, the main character asks her friend, “Where does he find these skanks?”
In an Oct. 23 decision published Monday, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Lucy Billings denied a motion to dismiss the suit filed by Broad Green Pictures, which produced the film.
Billings found that people who know Cohen are likely to know that he used to be married to Pollitt and may come away with the impression that Cohen is a “womanizer keeping company with sleazy and sexually promiscuous women.”
Cohen is represented by solo attorney Richard Altman and David Feige of Giskan Solotaroff & Anderson. In an interview, Altman said the injury to his client amounted to “libel by fiction.”
“Adultery does remain a crime in the state of New York,” Altman added. (Adultery is a class B misdemeanor in New York.)
Katherine Bolger of Davis Wright Tremaine appeared for the production company. On Monday, Bolger filed a notice of appeal to challenge Billings’ decision. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.