And this is what the people of the age of the Flood used to do: When a man brought out a basket full of lupines, one would come and seize less than a perutah’s worth and then everyone would come and seize less than a perutah’s worth, so that he had no redress at law.
(Genesis Rabbah 31:5, translated and cited here)
I was reminded of this midrash when I read Alexandra Polier’s account of how the John Kerry sex-scandal-that-wasn’t, in which she was rumored to have had an affair with the senator, changed her life. In the article, she demonstrates her journalistic skills by following the rumors back to their source:
In a world where libel attorneys work for free, Polier would have a slam-dunk case against every person mentioned in this list. In most contexts, a journalist who quotes a libelous statement, even if the quotation is accurate, is committing another libel. But every link in this chain of rumor-mongering could say, “Well, by the time I published the rumor, lots and lots of people knew about it from other sources, and other journalists spread the rumor to an even wider audience after they picked it up from me, so even if we are all liable for damaging Polier by spreading this falsehood, my share of the liability should not be very great.” Furthermore, I suspect that if Polier has any ambition left for a career in journalism, she knows that being a plaintiff in a libel suit would hurt her employability even more than being the involuntary star of a sex scandal. Even if she doesn’t care about that, how much can she expect to gain from winning a lawsuit, compared to the time and money it would cost her to prosecute it?
And so the merchant sees her property leak away, penny by penny, until there is nothing left and nobody worth suing, and our generation is one step closer to the generation of Noah’s flood.