Nearly Toothless: Why the Speech Act is Mostly Bark, With a Little Bite

In 1990, after his first appearance as the title character in The Terminator, and before his stint as the thirty-eighth Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger found himself trying to squelch a public relations nightmare. Two years earlier, celebrity journalist Wendy Leigh supplied information to a writer of a front-page story in Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, which claimed that Schwarzenegger was a Hitler admirer who held “fervent Nazi and anti-Semitic views.” By 1990, Leigh was on the verge of publishing an unauthorized biography filled with allegations of Schwarzenegger’s past homosexual experiences, use and sale of steroids, and criminal history. Leigh claimed that Schwarzenegger waged a campaign to halt the publication and sabotage the promotion of her book. Schwarzenegger’s publicist allegedly offered money to Leigh’s publisher to drop the biography and threatened television producers who wanted to feature Leigh on their shows. Nonetheless, attempts to suppress the dissemination of Leigh’s work failed—that is, until Schwarzenegger sued Leigh and News of the World for libel. When Schwarzenegger pursued the libel lawsuit in the United Kingdom, he became one of the world’s first “libel tourists”—a well-heeled public figure, scorned by a scandalous publication and seeking redress in a court outside the United States with plaintiff-friendly libel laws.

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