We Work founder Adam Neumann is seeking a £25,000 donation to charity from The Spectator over the publication of a story, since amended, that he alleges was defamatory.
The story, published in the magazine’s US-based international edition, The Spectator World, in May, had said that Neumann “defrauded” investors in We Work and likened the controversial entrepreneur to convicted fraudster Elizabeth Holmes.
The original article has since been updated to remove any suggestion of criminal wrongdoing, but lawyers for Neumann are now seeking a charity donation from The Spectator equal to the legal costs they say he incurred while asking for the amendments.
The Spectator World amends article about Adam Neumann
The story in question critically described Neumann’s career to date, focusing in particular on his dramatic exit from We Work and his reappearance in the public eye with his new business, Flow.
Once ostensibly valued at $47bn, coworking service We Work now has a market capitalisation of less than $300m and this month warned investors it is at risk of failing. Neumann left the company in 2019 under pressure from investors who had raised concerns over its business model and his involvement as it prepared for an ultimately abortive listing on the public market.
The Spectator World article, written by Puck founding partner and former Vanity Fair correspondent William D Cohan, originally said that “instead of heading off to prison for 11 years — like Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos infamy — or seeming like you’ll inevitably end up there, like FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried, [Neumann] walk[ed] away with roughly $600m in cash”.
It also said that Neumann had “defrauded” We Work’s largest investor Softbank and that it was “miraculous” he was not “prosecuted for crashing and burning his company or for investor fraud”. The story did not describe attempts to contact Neumann prior to publication.
All the above references have now been removed from the story, which ends with a note saying: “This article has been amended to make clear that it is not suggested that Adam Neumann deliberately misled investors or broke the law in any way.”
Neumann’s lawyers demand £25,000 costs for charity
However, Press Gazette has seen an August letter from law firm Schillings, which represents Neumann, suggesting the billionaire does not yet consider the matter closed.
Although Schillings said it was “pleased that the Spectator World has chosen to act in a responsible manner” by amending the story, the lawyers said the allegations made were “categorically false and defamatory and could not have been more serious.
“As a result of this defamatory reporting, our client has needed to instruct lawyers to engage and has incurred a significant amount of time and costs in doing so.”
Those costs, they said, amounted to £25,000.
“Given the article has now been amended, our client is prepared to draw a line under this matter, subject to a donation of £25,000 being made by your client to Be The Match Mexico, an organisation of personal importance to the Neumann family.”
Be The Match pairs blood disorder patients with potential stem cell donors.
Press Gazette understands The Spectator has not yet responded to the demand, which was sent on 1 August. Schillings said Neumann would also accept a £25,000 donation to a charity of The Spectator’s choosing, “subject to his further approval (which will not be unreasonably withheld)”.
The Schillings letter did not disclose whether Neumann would attempt to take The Spectator to court should the magazine choose not to make the donation but maintained “all our client’s rights remain reserved” while they await a response.
The Spectator’s the story was published by the US-based Spectator World, not its sister British title. Each is published by separate legal entities: the UK-registered Spectator (1828) Ltd and the Delaware-registered The Spectator (1828) Inc.
Press Gazette has approached the editorial leadership of Spectator World for comment.
Although The Spectator is regulated by IPSO in the UK, the regulator does not regard content written for foreign audiences or overseas editions to be part of its remit.
It is relatively unusual for a publication to voluntarily pay costs after making amendments to an article. Costs are more often paid as part of a damages award following a libel case or as part of a settlement before a case concludes, although some such payments have then been donated to charity.
In 2021, the HBO Max series Generation Hustle edited an episode about Neumann and We Work after publication to tone down suggestions of wrongdoing. Deadline reported at the time the changes came after HBO received “an informative correspondence or two from the well-documented ex-exec’s lawyers”. It is unclear whether any payments or donations were made in connection with those changes.
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