If you recall, last October Wired Magazine had an article: An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All. Barbara Loe Fisher of the self-named National Vaccine Information Center took issue with a section of that article and sued Dr. Paul Offit. The complaint is here.
Ms. Fisher was suing Dr. Offit, Amy Wallace (who wrote the story for Wired) and Conde Nast Publishing (who publish Wired).
For background, you can read Respectful Insolence Suppression of speech through legal intimidation, anti-vaccine edition: Barbara Loe Fisher sues Dr. Paul Offit, Amy Wallace, and Condé Nast for libel, as well as One possible reason why Barbara Loe Fisher chose to sue Paul Offit in Virginia?
Autism News Beats “Barbara Loe Fisher: “Not a person to be believed””
SkepticBlog (Steve Novella) Another Libel Suit – This Time Against Paul Offit ,
And Terra Sigillata’s Paul Offit, Amy Wallace, and Conde Nast being sued by anti-vaccinationist
The complaint centers around this section of the Wired story:
Paul Offit has a slightly nasal voice and a forceful delivery that conspire to make him sound remarkably like Hawkeye Pierce, the cantankerous doctor played by Alan Alda on the TV series M*A*S*H. As a young man, Offit was a big fan of the show (though he felt then, and does now, that Hawkeye was “much cooler than me”). Offit is quick-witted, funny, and — despite a generally mild-mannered mien — sometimes so assertive as to seem brash. “Scientists, bound only by reason, are society’s true anarchists,” he has written — and he clearly sees himself as one. “Kaflooey theories” make him crazy, especially if they catch on. Fisher, who has long been the media’s go-to interview for what some in the autism arena call “parents rights,” makes him particularly nuts, as in “You just want to scream.” The reason? “She lies,” he says flatly.
“Barbara Loe Fisher inflames people against me. And wrongly. I’m in this for the same reason she is. I care about kids. Does she think Merck is paying me to speak about vaccines? Is that the logic?” he asks, exasperated. (Merck is doing no such thing). But when it comes to mandating vaccinations, Offit says, Fisher is right about him: He is an adamant supporter.
Ms. Fisher argued:
“If defendants are correct, Plaintiff Fisher is not a person to be believed and because her stock and trade is information and opinion derived from it, she has no business worthy of acceptance and use, honesty being the foundation of every such reliance.”
The court’s decision is online.
The decision is quite clear. Ms. Fisher has no case against Dr. Offit, Amy Wallace or Conde Nast.
In this case, the article’s quotation of Defendant Offit’s comment that Plaintiff “lies” cannot reasonably be understood to suggest, as the Complaint alleges, that Plaintiff is “a person lacking honesty and integrity . . . [who should be] shunned or excluded by those who seek information and opinion upon which to rely.” Rather, the context of the remark – in a lengthy article describing an emotional and highly charged debate about an important public issue over which Defendant Offit and Plaintiff have diametrically opposed views – plainly signals to readers that plainly signals to readers that they should expect emphatic language on both sides and should accordingly understand that the magazine is merely reporting Defendant Offit’s personal opinion of Ms. Arthur’s [Barbara Loe Fisher’s] views.
In my opinion, this case was an attempt to shut Dr. Offit up, restrict his right to free speech by forcing him into costly litigation. In my opinion, the key section of the Wired article was this paragraph:
[Dr. Offit], meanwhile, still rises every morning at 4 am and heads to his small, tidy study in a spare bedroom. Every morning, he spends a couple of hours working on what will be his sixth book, a history of the anti-vaccine movement. Offit gets excited when he talks about it.
I wish Dr. Offit well in his next book. I thank him for standing up for free speech. In my view, Barbara Loe Fisher and the organizations that ally with her are very dependent on the very right that Dr. Offit just defended. They have the ability to voice opinions which are in direct contradiction to established science. I would think they would cherish the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.