Penguin Australia has come under further fire for publishing disgraced health blogger Belle Gibson's cookbook, with court files revealing the publisher was aware of obvious "gaps" in her story.
The Whole Pantry, published by Penguin in Australia, was pulled by Michael Joseph before it reached the UK market in March 2015 owing to a lack of "sufficient explanation or evidence" from Gibson in response to allegations her story about beating brain cancer through clean eating was made up. Gibson subsequently confessed the following month she'd never had cancer while in interview with Australian Women's Weekly for a feature entitled "My Lifelong Struggle with the Truth".
Internal files, provided to the Federal Court in Australia, have now revealed Penguin failed to fact-check Gibson's story in spite of warnings about "gaps" in her tale, made at least five months prior to publishing the book, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Penguin's files showed that Gibson's publisher Julie Gibbs, head of Penguin Australia's cookbook division, was emailed by a senior editor to say there were "a few gaps which journalists might probe" in Gibson's story. It also showed that, just before the book's release, Penguin was forced to question the blogger for 90 minutes in an attempt to help her field questions from the media.
Penguin also hired a public relations firm to draft a crisis plan in case Gibson ever came under scrutiny over "part of or all her story", the files revealed.
"You may still get questions about how much Penguin knew in advance (which you can decline to respond to)," the PR firm told Penguin. "Belle may even face criminal charges so the quicker Penguin is distanced from her the better."
The files also contained details of the publisher's publicity plans, as well as incensed readers' reactions after finding out the "deception" over which Penguin was accused of trying to make "a quick buck" and of having "just as much blood on your hands as she does". One reader wrote in to say: "Do you take all information you are given at face value?"
Gibson was paid a A$130,000 advance and further promised a A$15,000 "home economist" from Penguin to help her write the book.
Penguin Australia was made to pay a A$30,000 donation to the Victorian Consumer Law Fund after it was found to have been "engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and made false and misleading representations in breach of the Australian Consumer Law by publishing The Whole Pantry”.
Penguin Australia declined to comment to the Sydney Herald for the story.