Monday, July 25, 2016

Cinema Libre's Philippe Diaz Tries to Bully "Vaxxed" Critic into Silence

Cinema Libre Founder and CEO, Philippe Diaz
Source: Cinema Libre Studio
Apparently, Philippe Diaz, founder, president, and CEO of Cinema Libre Studio, is a litigious bully.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up and start by introducing you to Fiona O'Leary. Fiona is the mother of five children, living with her husband in Ireland. Two of her children are autistic, as is Fiona herself. Several years ago, she became an outspoken advocate for autistic rights, campaigning against quack autism treatments like MMS, chelation, GcMAF, and so on. Last year, she was featured in an Irish documentary called Bleach Cult, which detailed the bleach treatment known as MMS, a protocol created by ex-Scientologist Jim Humble. She also worked with the Illinois attorney general to shut down MMS promoter Kelli Rivera. In April 2015, Fiona and her husband, Tim, founded the charity Autistic Rights Together, an organization of autistic and non-autistic individuals dedicated to promoting the rights and respect for children, teens, and adults on the autism spectrum.

On July 19, Fiona started a petition to stop the film Vaxxed and its production team (Andrew Wakefield, Del Bigtree, and Polley Tommey) from spreading its anti-vaccine message (e.g., stating that there is no safe vaccine) in the state of Texas, and possibly beyond. The petition notes how the film and its production team are spreading misinformation about vaccines and autism around the country, particularly during the Q&A sessions after some of the screenings. Examples include Polly Tommey telling people that pediatricians are dangerous and should be avoided, Tommey saying that she would never judge parents who murder their autistic children, and Bigtree's urging of anti-vaccine activists to exercise their second amendment right to bear arms in their fight against vaccinations. Fiona also notes Bigtree's comments comparing autistic individuals to chimps and dogs, as well as how the supporters of Vaxxed ridicule autistic individuals who protest the film.

This is where we get back to Philippe Diaz and Cinema Libre's threats. On July 21, he sent a letter on the studio's letterhead to Mrs. O'Leary threatening her with legal action.

Mr. Diaz threatens legal action against Fiona O'Leary
Click to enlarge.
Fiona shared this letter on her Facebook page. Both she and her husband have posted video responses to the letter.

Diaz, in my opinion, has made some very significant errors. First, he picked a target that is a very outspoken advocate for autism rights, one who would have no qualms going public about this threat. Second, I don't think he took into account the widespread support that Fiona has from other members of the scientific and autistic communities. There have already been several posts written about Cinema Libre's actions, including posts by Reasonable Hank and Emma Delayne. More are almost certain to surface.

There is also the question of why Diaz targeted Fiona. Numerous people have pointed out the falsehoods and lack of ethics in the movie Vaxxed, as well as calling out Wakefield, Bigtree, and Tommey for their often inflammatory and incorrect statements about vaccines and autism. Yet none of those individuals have received letters threatening them with legal action. Even another filmmaker, Todd Drezner, has spoken out against Vaxxed. This is significant, considering Drezners' film, Loving Lampposts, was also distributed by Cinema Libre. Regarding the studio's latest actions, Drezner notes:
Cinema Libre distributes my documentary, which calls Wakefield's research fraudulent. Therefore, CLS should sue itself for defamation.
Perhaps Fiona was targeted because not only has she pointed out the dangerous statements of Del Bigtree, Polly Tommey, and the movie Vaxxed, but she has also urged others to take action to stop them. That threatens not only the production team's pocketbooks, but Cinema Libre's income, as well. Perhaps Diaz thought Fiona would be an easy target, that she would pull her petition and cower in silence, rather than face the threat of a lawsuit.

Speaking from experience, this letter seems more likely to just be posturing and bluff, rather than a real threat. You see, several years ago, I was also on the receiving end of a threatened defamation lawsuit. There are several aspects of the letter that suggest it is more bluster than true threat.

First, as with the note that I got in 2012, there is no mention of specific statements considered to be defamatory. Rule #1 if you're going to accuse someone of defamation: make sure you state explicitly what they said that is defamatory. In order to prove libel/slander, you have to show that the comment was a:
  1. publication of a statement of fact
  2. that is false,
  3. unprivileged,
  4. has a natural tendency to injure or which causes "special damage," and
  5. the defendant's fault in publishing the statement amounted to at least negligence.
Expressions of opinion fail the first point. You can't simply say, "Everything that you've said is libelous".  If it were that simple, then absolutely no one would even bother to write a negative review of a film (or anything else).

Another tell that Diaz likely won't follow through on his threat is that he demands that Fiona not make any further statements about Vaxxed, Cinema Libre Studio, Wakefield, Bigtree, Tommey, Autism Media Channel, or anyone else associated with AMC. Talk about a suppression of speech rights. Which is rather ironic, considering how Andrew Wakefield and Del Bigtree posed next to a large display quoting Frederick Douglass on free speech:

Wakefield and Bigtree support free speech, but only if it agrees with them.
Not only can Diaz and company not sue for statements of opinion, they also cannot sue (and hope to prevail) for statements that are factually true. Fiona has recounted what Bigtree and Tommey have said, themselves, with links to video of them saying those very things. I can't imagine how Diaz hopes to win should he bring suit.

Finally, letters claiming real defamation, which request that specific offending statements be removed, and which threaten legal action for noncompliance are generally written, or at least reviewed by, a lawyer before being sent to the offending party. Diaz chose to write the letter and send it to his lawyer, Jay Statman, at the same time that he sent it to O'Leary. Any good lawyer would have advised against sending such a vacuous demand if they had any intention of following through in court.

All that really remains are questions that arise should Diaz foolishly follow through.

First, where would he file suit? Since Fiona's petition is specific to Texas, and that is where Wakefield resides, that seems the most logical location. Texas is also home to Autism Media Channel, Wakefield's and Tommey's media company. However, Texas has a rather strong anti-SLAPP law. He could file in California, since that's the home of Cinema Libre. California also has some reasonable anti-SLAPP laws. Since anti-SLAPP laws generally allow for the defendant to reclaim legal fees if they win, he might try to bring suit in a state without such a law.

Whatever state he chooses, though, Diaz would also have to prove that Fiona acted with actual malice, since the plaintiffs would be public figures and this is a matter of public interest. In other words, not only does he have to prove that the statements were false, but he would also have to prove that Fiona knew they were false beforehand or recklessly did not care whether or not they were false. That sets a rather high bar for him to overcome.

Because of the legal hurdles in the U.S., Diaz might try to bring his case in Ireland, where Fiona resides. Irish law requires the defendant to prove that the statement is true, since alleged defamatory comments are presumed to be defamatory unless otherwise proved. That seems a rather expensive proposition, since he would need to find a lawyer there, as well as pay for travel costs to get there. Given how long court cases can drag on, that could run up a rather large bill.

Another question that comes to mind is whether this is actually Diaz's idea at all or if he was prompted by Wakefield or Bigtree. It certainly sounds like something that Wakefield would do, since he has tried to sue people for libel several times before in attempts to silence them, and he failed each time. In fact, in Wakefield's first failed libel case against British journalist Brian Deer, the presiding justice, The Honorable David Eady, described Wakefield using the proceedings as:
a weapon in his attempts to close down discussion and debate over an important public issue.
Finally, there's the little matter of discovery. This cannot go well for Philippe Diaz, Andrew Wakefield, Del Bigtree, or Polly Tommey. I can envision them feverishly deleting emails and texts to hide anything that they may have said about Fiona O'Leary that could jeopardize their case or give her more fuel in her fight against their message.

I've written to Mr. Diaz asking for some clarification on his letter. We'll see if he responds or remains quiet.

In the end, I applaud Fiona O'Leary for standing up to Andrew Wakefield, Del Bigtree, Polly Tommey, and the movie Vaxxed. While they do have the right to say (almost) anything they want, they are not free from criticism, nor are they free from the consequences of what they say. The message that they are spreading is dangerous to public health, generally, and more specifically to the health of children across the world. Fiona is calling for the Texas attorney general to investigate them and determine whether their comments and message represent a public threat. If you support this, consider adding your name to her petition. Remember, while they are guaranteed the right to not have their speech suppressed by the government, they are not guaranteed a platform for that speech.

Furthermore, if you oppose using libel laws to bully critics into silence, particularly Cinema Libre's attempts to bully Fiona O'Leary, an autistic woman and advocate for autism rights, into complete silence with regard to Vaxxed and its production team, consider adding your name to Kevin Jenco's petition to several motion picture organizations, asking them to cease doing business with Cinema Libre unless the studio retracts their threat and issues an apology. Jenco makes three demands in his petition:
  1. That all members of the motion picture community refuse to do business with Cinema Libre until they retract their threat and issue an apology.
  2. That the Motion Picture Association of America issue a condemnation of Cinema Libre.
  3. That theater groups across the country refuse to show Vaxxed.
[Edited to add (7/25/16): I meant to include a brief statement about Jenco's petition. He describes Cinema Libre as "a studio that cranks out innumerable cheap films and documentaries of dubious quality". I do not share that opinion of the studio as a whole. Yes, Vaxxed fits that description, but Loving Lampposts, mentioned earlier, does not.]
I also encourage readers to speak up and voice their own opinions on Cinema Libre and Philippe Diaz's actions. Mr. Diaz wants criticism shut down. Shine a light on this. Amplify the story of what he, Wakefield, Bigtree, and Polley are doing. Show them to be the bullies they are and refuse to be quiet.

Using the threat of a defamation suit to bully your critics into silence simply because you don't like what they have to say or because it paints you in an unflattering light not only abuses the legal system, it chills public discourse. Those who shake their sabers and threaten to bring such a frivolous lawsuit ought to be ashamed. After all, as Wakefield and Bigtree know, "to suppress free speech is a double wrong".

[Edited to Add (7/25/16): It looks like someone in the anti-vaccine community doesn't like the idea of Fiona O'Leary speaking her mind or advocating for the rights of autistic people. They have started a petition asking the Irish government to regulate the term "advocate".]


  1. Ironic also that Vaxxed tries to cry libel while hiding behind the protective U.S. libel laws to attack CDC officials and others with claims that are, at best, ill founded.

  2. Thank you!
    This is a wonderful Article :)

  3. Thanks for this very clear and forthright article, Todd. By the way, there is a new Change dot org petition which is also harassment of Ms. O'Leary. I've reported it as harassment and others may wish to also.

    1. Yes, I saw that and added a note at the end of my article. It is actually a rather laughable petition.

  4. What a sickening hypocrite this man Diaz is. He'll have been dining out for decades on his Sorbonne philosophy, posing as some kind intellectual and artiste, and yet he's just a thug and a bully for the charlatan Wakefield.

    Maybe Mr Diaz would care to view Vaxxed again, and make a note of that part of it where William Thompson makes an allegation of fraud. Which isn't there. The allegation is simply a fantasy projection by Wakefield. Indeed, Thompson makes clear in a statement (oddly omitted from the film) that reasonable scientists disagree.

    Nor does Thompson allege in the film that the CDC study didn't follow the analysis plan. He simply says he would supply a copy and they could decide for themselves whether DeStefano et al did.

    In fact, they did. Wakefield may not have noticed this because in his complaint to the CDC, he has altered the extract from the document. Mind you, I suppose he'll come back saying that it was Hooker or Moody who altered the extract, not him.

    Nah. This man Diaz would have no interest in checking the film, checking the documentation, and realizing that he's distributing yet another crock of shit from charlatan.

    He'd sooner beat up some family in Ireland exercising what in America are considered to be first amendment rights.

    What a scumbag.

  5. I have also added my report of harassment to, and as of now the petition has 125 signatures

  6. Todd, thanks for a great article about the ridiculous threats Fiona is facing. I also appreciate your kind words about "Loving Lampposts."

    Just to clarify about Cinema Libre, they do make some of their own films, but the majority of their catalog is acquired from independent filmmakers who grant CLS the right to distribute their work (as I did). They certainly have eclectic taste and don't mind acquiring films that flatly contradict each other.

    I have no idea why they've gone so far down the rabbit hole, but I'll gladly keep calling them out on it as needed.

    1. Todd, thanks for your comment. If Cinema Libre continues in this vein, of taking on films like Vaxxed and suing critics, then they deserve nothing but contempt and shunning from the rest of the film industry.

  7. Jake has chimed in. What a pleasant person [/sarcasm]

    Autistic Rights Together (or ART as it is abbreviated) is a crooked basement-style group of special snowflake activists purporting to promote neurodiversity and “autistic rights”. It is a mean-spirited gang of character assassins against doctors and scientists whose opinions merely reflect the emerging science that autism spectrum disorders are treatable medical conditions caused by vaccination. When ART’s censorship and defamation activities are rebuffed, they resort to the familiar cry-bully tactics employed by so many trolls for the pharmaceutical industry. ART’s leader Fiona O’Leary has become neurodiversity’s Irish replacement for Kathleen Seidel: the proprietor of the dormant website and who has engaged in the same activities.

    O’Leary played a key role in ruining the practice of the late Dr. Jeff Bradstreet, who has contributed to significant research discoveries shedding light on vaccines’ link to autism. Now she is trying to block screenings of Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe, a documentary on how the government has covered up associations between vaccines and autism. In response, the film’s distributors sent her a much-deserved cease-and-desist letter.

    O’Leary has gone crying for sympathy to Jezebel blogger Anna Merlan of Gawker Media, which is now being sued into bankruptcy for libel. ART and Gawker couldn’t be a more perfect match for each other.

    But even more perfect than that unholy alliance is an online petition that has been started against “unqualified advocates” like O’Leary. Please sign and spread the word.


Spam comments will be deleted.

Due to spammers and my lack of time, comments will be closed until further notice.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.