Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Dismissing Vaccination Denialism
As I predicted, the defamation suit by the doyen of the anti-vaccination movement, Barbara Loe Fisher (aka Barbara Loe Arthur), against Dr. Paul Offit, reporter Amy Wallace, and Wired Magazine, over the article "An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All," has been dismissed, via what is known as a motion to dismiss in lieu of answer, on the grounds that it did not state a cause of action.
The court ruled, as I expected:
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 views.The court also noted that the law gives special scrutiny to libel cases involving important public debates because of their potential to chill speech and derail serious discussions on civic issues. Of course, that was what Fisher wanted, since she doesn't have the facts to actually engage in a real debate on public health policy.
The result may be good, but the court's method is perverse.