Tuesday, November 15, 2011

IN MY VIEW: Anti-Smoking Advocates Should Not Post Defamatory Accusations Against Private Citizens, Even the "Opposition"

On the Smokefree DC web site, an anti-smoking researcher/advocate posted a comment which claims that Michael McFadden is a tobacco industry mole, meaning an individual affiliated with the tobacco companies who repeats Big Tobacco propaganda without revealing his connections to the industry.

Specifically, the anti-smoking researcher claimed as follows: "MOLE WARNING: There’s a Greenbelt Community On-line newsletter operated by the Greenbelt Patch that has carried several stories on the Schuman v. GHI & Popovic trial. The site has a Message Board, which has been attacked by semi-pro Tobacco Industry Spammers with the obvious intent of drowning out support for Schuman. According to Gene Borio, who operates an extremely informative daily tobacco newsletter, these spammers, who go by the names of Michael J. McFadden, a FORCES.org columnist, as well as Kevin Mulvina, and Magnetic, among several others, invariably pollute the message boards relating to on-line tobacco-related stories with the clear intent of drowning out alternative opinion with their fanatical flat-earth pseudo-science. Some webmasters have become wise to this, and some moderated sites have banned these industry moles."

The term "tobacco industry mole" has been used in the tobacco control literature to denote tobacco industry "spies" who essentially pose as private citizens who oppose tobacco control measures but who are really tobacco industry representatives or otherwise financially connected with the industry.

By calling McFadden a tobacco industry mole and by also calling him a semi-professional tobacco industry spammer, the clear connotation of this attack is that McFadden is not a private citizen who opposes smoking bans, but a paid tobacco industry representative with a tobacco company affiliation.

The Rest of the Story

To the best of my knowledge, Michael McFadden is neither a tobacco industry mole nor a semi-professional tobacco industry representative. In fact, I do not believe that he has any affiliation with the tobacco industry, nor do I believe that he has received tobacco industry payments to express his opinions.

In other words, I believe the claim being made by the anti-smoking researcher in his accusation is a lie.

Because the comment was made in an attempt to discredit McFadden by falsely tying him to the tobacco industry, I believe the comment is a defamatory one. If made on my blog, I would have deleted it for legal reasons. I am surprised that the Smokefree DC web site allows such a defamatory comment, especially when no evidence is presented to support the accusation that McFadden is working for the tobacco industry.

In my opinion, anti-smoking advocates should not be attacking private citizens with defamatory accusations such as this one. It is below us and reflects poorly on our character as public health professionals.

Hopefully, the accusation will either be removed with an apology offered to Michael, or else evidence of Michael's financial relationship with one or more tobacco companies will be provided in timely fashion. If the latter, I am sure that Michael will share some of his earnings with his old friend at the Rest of the Story.

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