Vaxxed threatens Fiona O’Leary – Phillipe Diaz doubles down

In a previous post, I addressed the question whether there was any basis to the threat of a defamation suit by Phillipe Diaz, CEO of the Vaxxed distributor, Cinema Libre, against Irish autism advocate Fiona O’Leary, and concluded that most likely there isn’t. Since then, Ms. O’Leary has been interviewed and spoken on the issue in Irish newspapers (here and here), Jezebel, and an Irish radio show, and it’s clear the attempt to silence her failed, and probably backfired. This article is an update to what has happened after Vaxxed threatens Fiona O’Leary.

Responding to Ms. O’Leary’s tweet sharing the Jezebel article, Ken White from Popehat (whose work has been incredibly helpful to many, many people in this situation, and from whom we all have a lot to learn on these issues) offered Ms. O’Leary his help:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”]I hope she reaches out, since there is really no one who can help her more if the studio moves on that initial threat.[/infobox]

The reason for this update is two-fold. First, to describe Mr. Diaz’ doubling down on his threats, and the problem with it. And second, to describe Ms. O’Leary’s new project to counter the harm Vaxxed, the Vaxxed team – and the vaccines-cause-autism myth more generally  – are causing to people with autism.

Vaxxed threatens Fiona O’Leary

Vaxxed threatens O’Leary – double down

 

In his interview with the talented Anna Merlan from Jezebel, Mr. Diaz not only did not retract his threats, but went further. He said:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”]This letter is real and it is the first one we have ever had to send. We absolutely welcome opposite points of view, as we hope that the resulting dialogue will ultimately initiate a legitimate investigation into the issue at the heart of this film, that has been suppressed for far too long.

It is important to recognize that Mrs. O’leary has gone much farther than simply publishing her point of view but has actually attempted to prevent the film from being distributed in the UK and in Ireland and interfered with the exploitation of the film in the US.

We completely respect Mrs, O’leary’s right to exercise freedom of speech. However, a deliberate effort to interfere with the distribution of the film is unacceptable to us, the distributor, and will be prosecuted.

If Mrs. O’leary wants her right of free speech to be respected, then she should respect other people’s right as well. And showing the film is our right.

Thank you for your interest.[/infobox]

Ms. O’Leary is hardly the first to oppose the film’s showing in her area. In fact, in many parts of the countries public health advocates have expressed their concern about the harm the misrepresentations in Vaxxed can cause to children and the public health.

So as a justification for going after Ms. O’Leary, these claims are more than a little hollow. Let’s be clear – there’s nothing illegal in a private individual calling on private theaters not to show a film or calling on the state to act if they think something is illegal – even if they are mistaken. Nor, as the previous post mentioned, was Ms. O’Leary the first to criticize the troubling claims of the Vaxxed team. So again, it’s hard to see this as anything but an attempt to go after a critic, and target a particular one (I discussed the possible reasons in the previous post).

The only part I’d like to go deeper into this comment:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”]However, a deliberate effort to interfere with the distribution of the film is unacceptable to us, the distributor, and will be prosecuted.[/infobox]

Sigh. Let’s start from the top. Mr. Diaz cannot prosecute Ms. O’Leary for anything. Not without getting a law degree, passing a bar and running as a DA if he wants to do so in the United States, or meeting Ireland’s requirements. Generally, it’s the state that prosecutes for crimes, not individuals.  There are a few exceptions, but they don’t apply here, to my knowledge.

Mr. Diaz can try and complain to the police and try to get the state to act criminally against Ms. O’Leary, of course. Let’s imagine those conversations. I assume, again, that the most logical jurisdictions would be Texas or Ireland, and address both below. I apologize to readers for not being able to write accents, and not being familiar enough with the local lingo. But I hope these make the point.

 

A Police Station in Texas

 

Diaz: “I want you to charge, maybe arrest, a woman! She’s interfering with my film!”

Texas Ranger: “What do you want us to charge her with, again?”

Diaz: “She’s libeling the people going around the country doing Q&A sessions after my film has been shown!”

Texas Ranger:Libel isn’t a crime in Texas. Did you consider suing?”

Diaz: “Yes, I told her I’ll sue her – I forgot to talk to my lawyer first and to see if I have a case, but I did threaten her with that – and it didn’t scare her!”

Texas Ranger: “Well, I’m afraid it’s still not a crime.”

Diaz: “But she doesn’t want theaters to show my film! And she petitioned the Texas Attorney General to act based on statements my team made!”

Texas Ranger: “Those aren’t crimes either.”

Diaz: “But she’s trying to get theaters in the UK and Ireland not to show the film!”

Texas Ranger: “How is that a crime under Texas law?”

Diaz: “She’s Irish!”

Texas Ranger: “So how are we supposed to act against her, even if this was a crime?”

Diaz: “Have her extradited!”

Texas Ranger: “Let me get this straight. You want Texas to ask Ireland to extradite an Irish woman because she doesn’t want your film to play in the UK or Ireland and because you’re upset that she said things that may or may not be libel about your team and wrote a petition to the Attorney General? Even though none of these are actually crimes?”
Silence.

Phone Call to a Gardaí Officer in Ireland

 

Diaz: “Hello, I need you to prosecute someone!”

Gardaí Inspector: “What for?”

Diaz: “Well, she doesn’t want theaters in Ireland to show my film, Vaxxed!!”

Gardaí Inspector: “What kind of crime is that?”

Diaz: “I don’t know. It has to be illegal to try and get theaters not to show a film?”

Gardaí Inspector: “How would it be illegal?”

Diaz: “Well, she also said nasty things about my team. I think they’re libel. I told her I’d sue her, and that didn’t scare her enough, so I want her prosecuted!”

Gardaí Inspector: “I’m afraid that after the Defamation Act of 2009, libel isn’t a crime in Ireland anymore (pdf). So even if you’re right, there’s no case.”

Diaz: “There must be something you can do. She says we are harming the autism community!”

Gardaí Inspector: “Well, is she right?”

Silence.

I just don’t see how any attempt to get the police to prosecute Ms. O’Leary can do anything but present Mr. Diaz and Cinema Libre in an even worse light than going after Ms. O’Leary initially did. Going after Mr. O’Leary with legal threats meant to silence her criticism was an ugly step, and probably a blunder. It may, and should, backfire to the discredit of Cinema Libre.

 
 

The Autistic Truth Express

 

One of the things that trouble Ms. O’Leary about the endeavors of the vaccines-cause-autism community generally and the Vaxxed team specifically is that they present autistics in what some perceive as the worse light possible, in a way that dehumanizes them, reinforces stigma, and can lead to negative consequences from discrimination to, at worse, murder.

Because of that, the Vaxxed team’s call to believers to allow their autistic children to be filmed in their homes – no doubt filming, or at least airing, the most negative moments, presenting these children, as in Vaxxed itself, in a negative light, violating their privacy and dignity.

To counter that, Ms. O’Leary launched an effort to educate people about autism and foster acceptance by providing films that show the other side of autism, the positives of living as an autistic individual, or having an autistic family member. To do so, she launched a Facebook page and YouTube channel.

One way to counter the harm the Vaxxed team is doing to the autism community – and more, to do a positive thing for that community – is to support Ms. O’Leary’s efforts.

Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

This article is by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy and the law. 


Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.