It is not unusual for public figures to be unhappy with how they are portrayed in the media. Sometimes their complaints are understandable, other times not so much. What is unusual is for a public figure to take legal action against a journalist. That's because in the United States there is a very high bar for a defamation claim. A landmark Supreme Court decision 50 years ago ruled that a public figure cannot recover damages “unless clear and convincing evidence proves that a false and defamatory statement was published with ‘actual malice’ – that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” But if you are someone who still wants to punish a journalist for something he or she has written, you don't actually have to sue. You just have to rattle a few sabers and threaten legal action. This appears to be the tactic Mike Adams is using in an attempt to intimidate Forbes and muzzle one of their contributing writers/bloggers. Much more about that in a minute. First some background: Adams is the founder and operator of an internet website called Natural News, which, according to its mission statement,
covers holistic health, nutritional therapies, consciousness and spirituality, permaculture , organics, animal rights, environmental health, food and superfoods , and performance nutrition.
The Wikipedia page on Natural News is a good place to start if you never heard of Adams and want learn what he espouses and what the science blogosphere has written about him. For example, Wikipedia notes (my links) that, "Adams is an AIDS denialist, a 9/11 Truther," and has "endorsed conspiracy theories surrounding the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting." Adams now objects to this characterization, yet he provides all the proof with his own writings. At RationalWiki, you can browse from a ghoulishly absurd spectrum of conspiratorial offerings from Adams, including the one about Bill Gates and Microsoft developing weaponized influenza viruses, to achieve their "ultimate goal of wiping out a significant proportion of the human race." Unsurprisingly, Adams is a regular voice on the most feverish conspiracy forums.
By now, I can imagine what you are thinking. This guy is so far out there that who of sound mind--knowing all this--could possibly take him seriously? Well, try wrapping your head around this: Dr Oz just had Adams on his TV show. Is it possible that neither Oz or his producers were aware of Adam's notorious history? Here's one incredulous reaction. Anyway, all the kooky things that Adams puts up on NaturalNews.com and says all over the internet are there for you to check out yourself. For some examples, just follow the links I provided above. Or you could read the recent profile of Adams by Jon Entine at his Genetic Literacy website. The piece was cross-posted at Forbes, where Entine is a contributor to their website. (He is not on the Forbes editorial masthead. Rather, Entine, a science writer, is part of a large "content" network at the website.) For his piece, Entine drew almost entirely on Adams' own writings, the public records of his various companies, and what scientists and other science bloggers had to say about him. Adams did not appreciate the piece, which characterized him as "anti-science" and focused on his crusade against GMOs and how that commingled with his various conspiracy theories. He immediately went after Forbes and Entine. To see how that has played out over the last month, let's rewind the clock to April 3, when Entine's unflattering profile of Adams was posted on the Forbes website. That day, Adams contacted Forbes to complain about factual inaccuracies and slanderous statements in the piece. He demanded it be taken down. Forbes complied, but it also asked Adams to spell out the alleged falsehoods in an email. The next day, Adams sent a lengthy missive, detailing all the "corrections." The gist of them: He objected to being called "anti-science," an AIDS denialist, a 9/11 truther, and so on. In an email addressed to the Forbes editor, he wrote:
I am contacting you to firmly request that you immediately retract this article and refrain from allowing obvious biotechnology front men such as Jon Entine to exploit your website for such false and defamatory hit piece articles filled with many factual errors and rumor-mongering. This article, in fact, falls into the category of "cyber-bullying" and "electronic harassment."
Meanwhile, on April 4, Adams sent Entine a long email that was, by turns, threatening, bizarre, and creepy. Here's a taste:
We are of course pursuing aggressive legal action against Forbes.com and Jon Entine personally, so both of you should expect to be served with a defamation lawsuit in due time.
As you are now well aware, you are about to be named in a personal lawsuit which will cite the extensive body of your defamation and cyber bullying efforts, all of which have been archived and time stamped for court evidence. You can count on this lawsuit requiring considerable resources of your time and money for the foreseeable future. You are no doubt also aware that I have many friends in law enforcement and that we are simultaneously pursuing an effort to have you arrested and charged with cyber bullying crimes. I honestly cannot say for sure whether such an effort will be successful, but it is one of the areas we are actively pursuing against you.
Adams emphasized that he would spare no expense:
You are also aware that I am in command of the financial resources to see these efforts through, regardless of their cost or duration.
Adams also let Entine know that, "I of course have a full file on you and your personal details..." Then, after laying it on thick, Adams suggested that the two of them settle the matter privately:
I do not know if you are are rational person, but if you are, then I invite you to discuss a private settlement agreement with me which would allow us both to focus our efforts elsewhere.
Adams, at times, almost sounded as if he was trying to befriend Entine:
I am not the person you think I am, Mr. Entine. You are not in a position to know the details yet. Knowing that you might make this email public, I cannot divulge full details here, but I do know that you would be extremely surprised to learn what we have in common. If we could meet in person, in a secure and private conversation, I could tell you more.
Adams ended on this note:
If you wish to entertain a possible private settlement discussion, please email me back at your earliest convenience. We can either discuss it person to person, or we can involve both of our attorneys in the matter. Either method is acceptable to me, and any such discussions will of course be held in strict confidence. You will no doubt find that such an effort works strongly in your favor, especially considering the alternative.
For weeks, Entine stewed over the threats. It also rankled him that Forbes kept his piece off their site, although he could understand why they wouldn't want to be bothered by Adams. (Entine had sent Forbes a multi-page fact sheet (PDF) documenting his evidence. Again, this was gleaned from public records and Adams' own writings.) On April 21, Adams escalated his intimidation campaign. A law firm representing him sent a letter that day to both Forbes and Entine. The letter (PDF) to Forbes stillthreatened legal action (even though the article had already been taken off the website), unless certain demands were met:
We are now writing to request that Forbes 1) publish formal notice of retraction, explaining that the article lacked substantiation and contained false content, and 2) prohibit henceforth Jon Entine from serving as a contributing writer to Forbes, and reference this ban in the retraction.
The lawyer's letter (PDF) to Entine said this:
We are writing to warn you of impending legal action we will take against you should you not abide by our following demands: 1) Immediately retract all content relating to Mike Adams and/or NaturalNews.com from all websites you exert control and/or influence over, including www.geneticliteracyproject.org; 2) Agree to cease from publishing any further information relating to Mike Adams or NaturalNews.com; 3) Issue a public apology for publishing defamatory information relating to Mike Adams and NaturalNews.com; 4) Compensate Mike Adams in the amount of $3,000.00 for legal fees incurred.
The odd thing about all this is that most everything in Entine's piece that Adams objects to has already been reported and discussed elsewhere in multiple places in the science blogosphere. So is Adams just going after Forbes because it is a well-endowed, high profile media entity? And why try to muzzle Entine? In an email this week to Adams, I asked him: "I am curious to know if you have pursued legal action against any of these other writers--and their publications/outlets?" I haven't heard back from him yet. If I do, I'll post his response. UPDATE: Mike Adams' response can be read here. Also, Jon Entine has posted a related, follow-up article.