Cancer Researcher Calls NY Times Profile Defamatory

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – An Ohio State University cancer researcher fired back at the New York Times in a lawsuit over what he says is a defamatory feature story that led to attacks on his reputation by online commenters.

Dr. Carlo Croce claims in a 58-page defamation complaint that the New York Times published a front-page article “riddled with venomous and defamatory falsehoods” about the doctor, provoking online readers to roast his reputation in the comments section by calling him a “con man,” “fraud,” “crook,” “liar,” “murderer,” and a “cockroach” that “scurried out from under a rock.”

Filed in Columbus, Ohio, federal court, Croce’s complaint includes counts of defamation, false light invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He seeks an unspecified amount of actual, special and punitive damages as well as a jury trial.

Croce’s attorney Thomas Hill wrote in the complaint that the “lawsuit seeks to remedy those falsehoods, to prove the truth, and to restore Dr. Croce’s good name.”

The March 8 article was published with the headline “Years of Ethics Charges, but Star Cancer Researcher Gets a Pass,” with a sub-headline reading “Dr. Carlo Croce was repeatedly cleared by Ohio State University, which reaped millions from his grants. Now, he faces new whistle-blower accusations.”

The complaint says the specific language of the article’s headline was construed by readers “as a statement of fact that Dr. Croce has been guilty of repeated ethical violations but got away with them because of the millions of dollars in grants he has generated for OSU.”

“Dr. Croce was in fact not guilty of any ethics charges. He could not therefore have been ‘given a pass’ for ethics violations he did not commit,” the lawsuit states.

The article was written by co-defendants James Glanz and Agustin Armendariz. The New York Times’ executive editor Dean Baquet and publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. are also named as defendants.

Croce claims Glanz initiated his lab tour and interview with Croce by asking to speak “briefly on the fascinating topic of microRNA” and that “at no time during this visit to Columbus did Glanz ever mention anything to either Dr. Croce or the post-doctoral fellow about any scientific misconduct or ‘wrongdoing’ by Dr. Croce.”

A large chunk of Glanz’s article hit Croce for his work in the 1990s as an adviser to the Council for Tobacco Research, or CTR, which the story said was created by tobacco companies to fight the public perception that smoking caused cancer.

“The truth is that Dr. Croce served on the [Scientific Advisory Board] because the CTR was a large source of funding for worthy and important scientific research at a time when financial support for cancer research was very much needed. Dr. Croce was obviously not alone,” the complaint states. “Defendants knew that Dr. Croce had not ‘stepped beyond the generally expected bounds of cancer research’ by joining the SAB.”

A spokesperson for the New York Times PR department told Courthouse News that they have not been served court papers yet “but we’re confident that our story was accurate and we intend to vigorously defend the case.”

Croce has conducted research at Ohio State University since 2004, where he is a distinguished professor and the John W. Wolfe Chair of Human Cancer Genetics.

In response to the March 8 article, OSU Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce A. McPheron wrote a letter to the New York Times that was published the next day, saying, “The article implied that the university intentionally overlooked or mishandled research misconduct allegations against Dr. Croce because he is a source of revenue. In fact, over the 12-year span of Dr. Croce’s tenure at Ohio State, the university has invested significantly more in his research program than he has brought in from outside sources.”

Croce is represented by Thomas Hill of Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter in Columbus.

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