By J. B. Handley
A quick recap (it's been a long time):
It was October 2005. Generation Rescue had only been up and running for about 5 months, and we had 125 brave souls who had put their names, locations, and emails on our website to serve as Rescue Angels to help other parents (today we have more than 800) on their journey through biomedical intervention.
On or around October 10th of that year, I heard from a Rescue Angel Mom who was extremely distraught. It turned out that someone, most likely a member of the "ND" community, had blended a post they had seen from her on a message board, her Rescue Angel information, and somehow figured out where she worked. This person had contacted the Rescue Angel's employer and told them something to the effect of, "Your employee is a volunteer of this organization, believes and says a lot of scary things about autism [like that it's triggered by vaccines and is treatable], and why is she allowed to say and do these things and work here?"
This Rescue Angel mom had just been through a meeting with her employer, which I believe was a public school, where she'd had to respond to this anonymous mudsling, and she was understandably very, very upset.
I, too, was irate. The thought that people were trying to impact the livelihoods of our Rescue Angels was incomprehensible, and I felt personally responsible for the plight of this Mom, having created the group that got her into this whole mess.
Knowing that many of our enemies were avid readers of a public message board where we all congregated, I fired off a warning to the person responsible that read:
Dear N.D. folks monitoring this list:
I have no respect for your "movement".
You are now spending your time actively hassling our Rescue Angels. We are spending out time constructively engaging doctors to help our babies. If you don't like what we have to say, stop listening.
We will bring the full resources of myself and Generation Rescue to stop this. We will sue you for libel and we will go after your homes and assets. My lawyers live to investigate and sue people like you.
This will be your only warning.
My message is still up there on the EOH message board, it's message #17717 and you can read it for yourself. Now, you may disagree with the message I wrote, you may disagree with its tone, and you may disagree with my reaction to the situation at hand. But, at least you know the circumstances that surrounded the decision I made, and that's what I really want you to know.
I really want you to know and understand what happened and why I wrote the note I wrote because once you do, you can see what a profoundly dishonest and manipulative liar Paul Offit really is.
You see, this post from EOH, or at least an excerpt from it, actually made it in to Paul Offit's book, that book that will remain nameless, but the one we all know the name of. Yup, a piece of my post from EOH, the one where I was trying to tell the person hassling one of our Rescue Angels at work to back the hell off, made Offit's book.
But, you wouldn't know that from what Offit wrote.
You see, Paul Offit has a passage using a portion of this post, but it's used for an entirely different reason. Rather than try to explain, I'm just going to share the passage from the book that will remain nameless, on page 145:
"SEIDEL WAS ALSO APPALLED BY THE GEIERS' AND JB HANDLEY'S constant promotion of chelation therapy as a cure for autism. In 2000, only a handful of children were chelated; by 2005, the number had purportedly climbed to more than 10,000 a year. On her Web site, Seidel pleaded with Handley to stop promoting a "therapy" that had never been shown to work and was potentially dangerous. Handley wrote back: "We are spending out time constructively engaging doctors to help our babies. If you don't like what we have to say, stop listening. We will bring the full resources of myself and Generation Rescue to stop this. We will sue you for libel and we will go after your homes and assets. My lawyers live to investigate and sue people like you. This will be your only warning."
Well, I'll be damned.
A post I wrote on a public message board regarding someone hassling our Rescue Angels was now a response to Kathleen Seidel? A response that never actually took place in an exchange that Offit manufactured from thin air? I threatened to sue her for challenging me on the "promotion" of chelation therapy?
I'll be damned again.
So, there it is folks. Offit made up a conversation that never took place and blended something I wrote on a public message board for an entirely different reason to serve his own purpose.
Soon after, I wrote the following:
Anyway, I found me a great attorney who eats nails for breakfast and believes in truth. He'll remain nameless for now because he didn't sign up to be part of this public journal, but here's a copy of the letter we sent, certified mail, to Dr. Proffit himself and Columbia University Press:
Paul A. Offit, M.D.
c/o Columbia University Press
61 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
Re: Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure by Paul A. Offit, M.D.
I represent J.B. Handley, who is referred in the book Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. The conversation reported at page 143 of the book never occurred. The writing that the author refers to was in a different time and place.
The creation of that conversation and the juxtaposition of that conversation with Mr. Handley's writing are false, libelous and damaging.
Within ten days you must advise me that the author will write a written apology to Mr. Handley and that you will take out all reference to that conversation in any future printings, or we will explore our legal alternative.
Very truly yours,
So, now you are caught up on where I left things off. And, here's the latest, a response from an attorney for Paul Offit and Columbia University Press. Oddly, a request for a retraction and an apology ends as a lecture and a defense of the Rotavirus vaccine…
Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
New York, NY 10019
Re: Autism's False Prophets By Paul A. Offit, M.D.
Dear [JB's lawyer]:
I am counsel to Columbia University Press and Dr. Paul A. Offit and write in response to your letter dated October 30, 2008 on behalf of your client J.B. Handley.
Your allegation that Autism's False Prophets libels J.B. Handley on p. 145 is entirely baseless. As you know, a libel plaintiff bears the burden of proving substantial falsity. Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 501 U.S. 496, 516-17 (1991)("it is sufficient if the substance of the charge be proved true, irrespective of slight inaccuracy in the details"); Patington v. Bugliosi, 56 F.3d 1147, 1161 (9th Cir. 1995) ("[In] determining the 'gist' or 'sting' of a newspaper article to assess whether it is actionable, a court must look at the highlight of the article, the pertinent angle of it, and not to items of secondary importance"); Printer II, Inc. v. Professional Pub, Inc., 784 F.2d 141, 146-147 (2d Cir. 1986).
Here, as demonstrated in the attached print-out, Mr. Handley addressed a posting on "Environment of Harm" "To the Neuro-Diverse Crowd reading this list." The posting came shortly after Kathleen Seidel's pleas on her website that Handley stop promoting a therapy that was potentially dangerous, and contains the very threats set forth in the book. The reference to "the Neuro-Diverse Crowd" was readily understood by Kathleen Seidel and others to refer to Seidel and her supporters, since her website is named "neurodiversity.com" and she is widely associated with that term. In short, your apparent quibble over whether Mr. Handley "wrote back" to Ms. Seidel as opposed to addressing threats to her in a written posting on a website is a trivial one and does not alter the sting of the passage. The thrust of the passage is that Mr. Handley launched inappropriate threats against Ms. Seidel, including the threat, "We will sue you for libel and will go after your home and assets. My lawyers live to investigate and sue people like you. This will be your only warning." That is unquestionably true.
Moreover, in the event that Mr. Handley brought suit, he would need to prove actual malice, since he is undoubtedly a limited purpose public figure. New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 279-80 (1964). Few libel plaintiffs can clear this onerous hurdle, as "the standard for actual malice is a daunting one." McFarlane v. Esquire Magazine, 74 F.3d 1296, 1308 (D.C. Cir. 1996). Dr. Offit, who had interviewed Kathleen Seidel, fully believed in the truth of the passage at issue and certainly did not act with knowledge of falsity or in "reckless disregard of the truth." Times v. Sullivan, supra.
In short, your letter threatening litigation appears to be yet another inappropriate effort by Mr. Handley to bully his detractors through meritless accusations of libel. Moreover, while Mr. Handley has accused my clients of libel for a responsible, thoughtful book, his own actions have been highly irresponsible.
In violation of Paul Offit's common law trademark rights, Mr. Handley has launched a website with the domain name "Paul Offit.com." Moreover, the website contains numerous false statements, and we demand that Mr. Handley cease making such false remarks. These include statements that Dr. Offit is paid by pharmaceutical companies to speak about vaccines and autism. Dr. Offit has never been paid by pharmaceutical companies to speak about vaccines and autism. He is the co-inventor and co-patent holder of a rotavirus vaccine, which has never been implicated as a cause of autism, and was compensated by his hospital (not Merck) for the development of a rotavirus vaccine. Moreover, Mr. Handley states that the rotavirus vaccine has been associated with more cases of intussesception (intestinal blockage) than a similar vaccine that was taken off of the market in 1999, thus implying that RotaTeq vaccine is unsafe. However, the CDC published a paper in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in March 2007 (MMWR, March 16, 2007, pages 218-222) clearly showing that the incidence of intussesception in children who received RotaTeq is actually less than children who didn't receive the vaccine. This report pre-dates Mr. Handley's posting by more than one year. His statement that RotaTeq vaccine is dangerous is contrary to the data, implies that Dr. Offit is the co-inventor of a dangerous vaccine, and misleads parents into possibly making the wrong decision for their children.
[Final paragraph omitted, discusses conflict rules between my attorney and Columbia University Press.]
J.B. Handley is co-founder of www.generationrescue.org and a contributor to Age of Autism.