By Barbara Loe Fisher
On October 17, 2009 I was at the Atlanta airport on my way back to Washington, D.C. when I stopped at a newsstand. Like most weary travelers waiting for a plane, I was looking for something to read that would give me a break from my work, which included, two weeks earlier, hosting the large Fourth International Public Conference on Vaccination (1) for an audience of 700 concerned scientists, health care professionals, journalists, legal experts, ethicists and parents from around the world.
Suddenly, my eye caught the distorted, photo-shopped image of a baby with the word FEAR in bold letters imprinted on the baby’s chest. I paged through Wired magazine (2) to find out who wrote the article and discovered it was a woman named Amy Wallace, one of the many journalists I had talked with in 2009, who had contacted the National Vaccine Information Center, (3) a non-profit, educational organization I co-founded in with parents of vaccine injured children in 1982.
Puffing Up Paul Offit By Engaging in Defamation
As I scanned the article to find out why it was entitled “An Epidemic of Fear: One Man’s Battle Against the Anti-Vaccine Movement,” I quickly realized it was a puff piece for vaccine patent holder, Dr. Paul Offit, who alleges that vaccine injuries and deaths are largely a myth.
Then, I saw my name. And then, I saw the words, “She lies.”
I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach as I read the unsubstantiated, unchallenged slur made by Offit against me. And in those two words “SHE LIES,” I knew that the propaganda tactic of character assassination was being used to attack the credibility of my nearly 30 years (4) of work as a vaccine safety consumer advocate.
Amy Wallace, Rookie Journalist
Now, I have never met Amy Wallace. We have never shaken hands or shared so much as a cup of coffee together. We had one interview on the telephone in 2009. In a sworn statement (5) she stated that she did not use any quotes from our telephone interview in her Wired article. No, she didn’t.
She also did not tell Wired readers what I told her, which is that I have always encouraged everyone to become educated (6) about the risks of diseases and risks of vaccines and consult one or more trusted health care professionals before making an informed decision - just like every intelligent person should do before using any pharmaceutical product. Instead, Ms. Wallace said she based her description of me on a speech I gave at a conference, a speech that she did not attend.
Take It or Fight Back? I was left with two options: 1) I could ignore it; or (2) I could take action to defend my integrity. After consulting Jonathan Emord, (7) a constitutional and libel law attorney, I selected option number two. I sought justice in a civil court, which is my constitutional privilege as an American citizen and my responsibility as the president of a non-profit organization, whose supporters depend upon the accuracy, honesty and integrity of what I say and do, as does everyone I know.
Requesting a jury trial in a U.S. civil court to sue for slander or libel is not for the faint of heart. You have to review and be prepared to defend the truthfulness of every statement you have ever made and every action you have ever taken in your life. You, your family, friends and colleagues could be subpoenaed and drawn into a potentially very public, drawn-out battle, especially if those you are suing are wealthy, influential and politically connected.
I had never sued anyone before and I certainly never thought I would find it necessary to sue a journalist. The majority of journalists I have worked with over the years have been honest men and women, who have taken care to do their research and fairly report the facts without prejudice, including accurately describing who I am and what I do.
Asking for a Jury Trial
This was different. I had never been defamed before and I knew I had no choice but to take steps to defend my integrity. I was confident that, if my case was presented to a jury of my peers, I would win. I had no doubt I would win on the facts because I do not lie and there was no evidence that could be produced to substantiate the defamatory statement made by Offit, amplified by Wallace, and printed by Wired magazine published by Conde Nast.
After Mr. Emord filed a Complaint with Demand for a Jury Trial (8) on Dec. 23, 2009 in a Virginia U.S. District Court asking for one million dollars in damages, we waited for a response from the defendants. When I read the Motion to Dismiss brief filed on Jan. 22, 2010 (9) by the defendants attorneys, I could not believe what I was reading. That CYA brief is better reading material than anything I can write or say here…….
To read the entire commentary with links to references, including all legal briefs filed in the lawsuit, click HERE.