AIDS Denialist Reporter Loses Defamation Claim | Courthouse News Service
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AIDS Denialist Reporter Loses Defamation Claim

(CN) - A magazine writer who reported on challenges to the idea that HIV causes AIDS was not defamed by a researcher who called her a liar, a New York appeals court ruled.

Celia Farber wrote an article in the March 2006 issue of Harper's Magazine called "Out of Control: AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science."

In addition to reporting on criticism of the antiretroviral drug nevirapine, Farber's article highlighted the theories of the controversial AIDS dissident, Peter Duesberg, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

"I interviewed Peter Duesberg as a straight news story: 'Top retrobiologist says HIV doesn't cause AIDS. Let's see what he has to say. When that was published, what happened was I was attacked," Farber later told Discover magazine.

The article opened with the story of a Tennessee woman "who was killed by nevirapine" to show that "we live in a culture where a woman can be killed like a guinea pig," Farber told Discover. "It's what happens when the NIH sponsors this kind of trial and similar trials, where people are dying every single day in human experimentation around the world."

Ultimately, however, the Harper's article produced a different kind of outrage, and a lengthy rebuttal from eight leading AIDS researchers and activists that the Treatment Action Campaign posted on its website.

"Using a plethora of false, misleading, biased and unfair statements, Farber attempts to cast scientific institutions and scientists as dishonest," they wrote.

"Farber implies financial motives permeate scientific research. Why does Farber not make similar allegations against the AIDS denialists, many of whom are involved in the marketing of alternative medicines?"

Two years later, some authors of the article allegedly rallied against Farber again as an organization readied to honor her and Duesberg for hurdling misconduct allegations based on their status as whistle-blowers of the medical establishment.

In an email to the one of the organization's coordinators, Treatment Action Group coordinator Richard Jeffreys wrote that Farber and Duesberg "are not whistleblowers, they are simply liars who for many years have used fraud to argue for Duesberg's long-discredited theory that drug use and malnutrition - not HIV - cause AIDS."

Farber sued Jeffreys and two others for defamation, but the New York County Supreme Court dismissed the claims against Jeffreys in 2011.

The Appellate Division's Manhattan-based First Department affirmed last week.

"[The] Supreme Court properly determined that plaintiff was a limited public figure because, through her publication of countless articles, she voluntarily injected herself into the controversial debate on whether HIV causes AIDS with a view toward influencing the debate, and project[ed] [her] name and personality before ... readers of nationally distributed magazines ... to establish [her] reputation as a leading authority' in this area," the unsigned decision states. "The court also properly concluded that the subjects of HIV/AIDS, plaintiff's journalism, and her receipt of an award for her journalism fell 'within the sphere of legitimate public concern.' Indeed, the record established that plaintiff was a contentious figure within the traditional HIV/AIDS community." (Brackets and ellipses in original.)

Farber also failed to show that Jefferys acted with "actual malice or gross irresponsibility," according to the ruling.

"Jefferys sufficiently explained that his statement about plaintiff's journalism was based on his expertise and research on HIV/AIDS for many years, on an article signed by prominent experts in the field, as well as on the many articles in the record which critiqued plaintiff's 2006 article as being filled with misquotes or misrepresentations," the justices wrote.

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