MANHATTAN (CN) – A journalist who specializes in reporting the views of people who do not believe that the HIV virus causes AIDS claims three critics defamed her in emails to the Semmelweis Society International, a nonprofit corporation of health-care professionals dedicated to protecting whistleblowers. Celia Farber says the defendants wanted Semmelweis to withdraw an award it was giving her for a piece in Harper’s magazine.
Farber says the allegedly defamatory emails were meant to discourage Semmelweis from honoring her and virologist Dr. Peter Duesberg with the group’s “Clean Hands Awards” in 2008.
Semmelweis honored Farber for her 11,000-word article in the March 2006 issue of Harper’s, “Out of Control: AIDS and the Corruption of Medical Science,” which alleged widespread corporate and governmental corruption during a Ugandan trial of the drug nevirapine, “with eerie echoes of John Le Carré’s Constant Gardener.”
The piece ended with a sympathetic portrait of Duesberg, who received numerous grants from the National Institute of Health before becoming a pariah in the organization for publishing articles arguing that malnutrition, recreational drugs and pharmaceuticals caused the human immunodeficiency syndrome attributed to HIV.
Farber says that Harper’s asked her to include the segment about Duesberg to “illustrate the punitive culture of the NIH,” a move for which the publication was fiercely criticized by The New York Times (“Deadly Quackery,” June 4, 2006) and Columbia Journalism Review (“Harper’s Races Right Over the Edge of a Cliff,” March 8, 2006).
But Farber says the magazine never distanced itself from the article. In an interview with The New York Times, Harper’s editor Roger Hodge said, “The fact that she’s been covering this story does not make her a crackpot; it makes her a journalist. She’s a courageous journalist, I believe, because she has covered the story at great personal cost.”
After finding out that Semmelweis planned to honor Farber and Duesberg, Richard Jeffreys from the Treatment Action Group allegedly sent an email to a coordinator of “Whistleblower Week in Washington” calling them “liars” who “used fraud” to propagate “discredited theories.”
According to the complaint, this email’s circulation caused Farber and Duesberg to be dropped from the list of people testifying at the ceremony, but they still were invited to accept their award in a private setting.
After the event, the “acrimonious” exchanges continued, Farber claims. Dr. James Murtagh, a co-chair of the International Association of Whistleblowers, allegedly called a Semmelweis member at home to tell her she “would be attacked” for supporting Farber. Later, the complaint states, the doctor sent an email to Semmelweis, members stating that Farber was “obviously ill” and claiming that she “resorts to made up facts” in her story.
“To date,” Farber says, “Harper’s magazine has stated that it found no errors in the article.”
In a telephone interview, Murtagh countered, “I have never been notified by Ms. Farber’s attorney. I have never spoken to Ms. Farber.”
He said he has contacted the New York Post and a radio host in an effort to correct the record but has received, from the Post, no response, and from the radio host, a further compounding of the errors.
“The New York Post won’t answer my calls,” said Murtagh. “I asked the NY Post to correct their record. I called all their folks … I think that speaks volumes. A fair journalist would want to hear both sides of the story.”
Murtagh suggested the matter had the trappings of a media circus. “It seems pretty clear,” he said, “that this could be a media event.”
Former Semmelweis member Kevin Kuritzky, who resigned in protest of Farber’s award, joined the fray, sending emails claiming that he was Duesberg’s former student and that the professor “failed to defend his thesis in class,” according to the complaint. But Farber says Kuritzky “never attended any of Dr. Duesberg’s college courses.”
Murtagh said on the phone that, “It’s absolutely true that Kevin Kuritsky attended a lecture by Dr. Duesberg.”
Farber also says in her complaint that Kuritzky sent an email suggesting nominations for next year’s Clean Hands Awards include “Holocaust denier and fraud David Irving, former KKK leader David Duke, and Nazi torturer Dr. Josef Mengele – all implying to a reasonable ordinary person that Plaintiff Farber was a mendacious liar and complicit in murder.” In another email, the complaint states, Kuritzky asserted that “Duesberg/Farber’s work” is “indirectly causing people to die.”
In her article for Harper’s Farber wrote: “Attempts to rigorously test the ruling medical hypothesis of the age are met not with reasoned debate but with the rhetoric of moral blackmail. Those who wish to engage the AIDS research establishment in the sort of causality debate that is carried on in most other branches of scientific endeavor are tarred as AIDS ‘denialists,’ as if skepticism about the pathogenicity of a retrovirus were the moral equivalent of denying that the Nazis slaughtered 6 million Jews.”
But, according to the complaint, Dr. Murtagh asserts that skepticism is unwarranted because the “fact that HIV causes AIDS is beyond dispute.”
Farber also claims that Kuritzky attacked her personally in interviews, accusing her of “parasitic, attention-whore behavior” for talking to the press about her life and having “sex with [her] employers for career-gains” because of her former relationship with editor Bob Guccione, when she worked for him at the rock magazine Spin, where she started writing about AIDS in the column “Words From The Front.”
“In 1997, a jury in Federal Court reviewed, in excruciating detail, my entire body of work at Spin, along with testimonies from coworkers. They returned a verdict rejecting the charge of sexual favoritism and concluded that my ‘career advancement’ had been the result of my work,” Farber wrote in New York Press in 2004.
Farber demands punitive damages from Jeffreys, Murtagh and Kuritzky. She is represented by Andrew Miltenberg with Nesenoff & Miltenberg LLP.