Judge Tosses Researcher’s Libel Claims Against NY Times

The New York Times headquarters at 620 Eighth Avenue. (Photo credit: Haxorjoe/Wikipedia)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed all but one defamation claim brought by an Ohio State University cancer researcher related to a New York Times article that provoked online readers to roast him in the comments section by calling him a “con man,” “crook” and a “cockroach.”

Dr. Carlo Croce filed a federal lawsuit last year in Columbus federal court claiming that the Times defamed him in a lengthy article titled, “Years of Ethics Charges, but Star Cancer Researcher Gets a Pass.”

The researcher claimed the article contained “venomous” falsehoods that cast suspicion on his work, raised questions about the university’s financial motives in allegedly overlooking concerns with his research, and prompted online readers to attack his reputation in the comments section of the digital article, calling him a “con man,” “fraud,” “crook,” “liar,” “murderer,” and a “cockroach” that “scurried out from under a rock.” Croce is represented by Columbus-based attorney James Edward Arnold.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge James Graham granted the Times’ motion to dismiss all of Croce’s claims for defamation, false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress, except for one defamation claim about a letter written by the reporter.

“Put in context, the article is an accurate and balanced report about Dr. Croce’s research, his critics, and his and Ohio State’s responses to the accusations against them,” Judge Graham wrote in a 35-page ruling.

However, Croce’s claim that defendant and co-author James Glanz made a defamatory statement in a letter he sent to Croce and the university will proceed. Prior to publishing the article, Glanz interviewed the researcher and asked him to respond to several accusations about Croce made by members of the scientific community.

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.

According to the ruling, the statement in Glanz’s letter reads: “Dr. Croce reviewed and awarded countless grants using CTR money, often in cases with clear conflicts of interest involving grantees at his own institution (Thomas Jefferson University at the time).” (Parentheses in original.)

The statement does not appear in the Times article, only in the letter Glanz wrote to Croce and Ohio State University.

According to Croce’s lawsuit, he advised CTR in the 1990s “at a time when financial support for cancer research was very much needed.”

Judge Graham noted that the statement in Glanz’s letter contradicts Croce’s assertions that when CTR grant application discussions involving Thomas Jefferson University arose, he left the room and did not vote on the matter.

“Though the letter does have the context of Glanz seeking Dr. Croce’s [answers] to questions and criticisms, statement 19 is different. Glanz doesn’t ask for verification; he makes a declarative statement of fact,” Graham wrote. “And he doesn’t qualify his statement in the way he sometimes did elsewhere in the letter, saying, for instance, ‘I understand that,’ to indicate he lacks complete knowledge of the facts he recited.”

The defendants include co-authors Glanz and Agustin Armendariz, the Times’ executive editor Dean Baquet and then-publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. They are represented by Keith Schneider of Maguire Schneider Hassay LLP in Columbus.

Attorneys for both sides did not immediately respond Wednesday to email requests for comment on the ruling.

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