Last year freelance writer Amy Wallace wrote a story for Wired called “An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All” about anti-vaccination advocates. In the article, Dr. Paul Offit says of one such advocate, Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center, “she lies.” On that basis Fisher sued Wired publisher CondeNast, Offit — and Wallace — for $1 million.
Fisher claimed that the two-word quote was defamation, and intended to make her look “odious, infamous, and ridiculous.”
Today U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.
Hilton wrote that “both the nature of the statement… and statement’s context — a very brief statement in a lengthy description of an ongoing, heated public health controversy — confirms that this is a protected expression of opinion.” He also says that the context of the quote “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 views.” [Ms. Arthur, in this case, refers to Fisher.] Therefore, the quote is “simply not actionable.”
The judge refused to get into the truths or untruths of the vaccine debate. “Courts have a justifiable reticence,” he wrote, “about venturing into the thicket of scientific debate, especially in the defamation context.”
The suit was filed in December of last year. Presumably the defendants have spent the past three months ponying up lawyer fees and worrying.
Orac of Respectful Insolence details other, related examples of what he calls “anti-science groups using the law to silence critics.”