Three public health researchers have filed defamation proceedings against the Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater and the tobacco industry lobbyist Carrick Graham.
The proceedings were filed in the High Court in Auckland by Professor Doug Sellman from the University of Otago, Professor Boyd Swinburn from the University of Auckland and Shane Bradbrook, and relate to a series of blog posts and comments published on the Whale Oil website.
You’ve got to give Cameron Slater credit – he is/was an innovator in the media space, creating a new and unique business model I think of as ‘defamation PR’. Lobbyists like Carrick Graham, Katherine Rich and who knows who else could collaborate with him to defame public health researchers doing work critical of their employers. No one else figured out how to monetise blogging in New Zealand.
You wouldn’t think Slater publishing something attacking a health researcher would have any effect – obviously no one in the scientific community reads it. But it did work, sometimes; partly because a lot of the scientists and researchers work for universities which now have large communications and marketing teams whose KPI is to ‘mitigate risk’ and ‘protect the brand’, and who tend to panic when their media monitors alert them to something alleging that their scientists are liars and frauds and money has been stolen and the law has been broken and there’s going to be a huge investigation and everyone is going to prison, or whatever else Slater, Graham et al fabricated on any given day. Direct pressure from a junk food or tobacco company is only going to get a university’s back up. Indirect pressure leveraged from within the institution itself is far more effective.
Defamation PR only works if no one actually sues for defamation though. Presumably they’ll try and use the discovery process to find out who Slater was working for, and that may or may not expose his clients.
Update: Katherine Rich contacted me and advised:
I’ve read your other piece on recent defamation proceedings where you mention me and say I’ve collaborated to defame people. I’ve never collaborated to defame anyone at any time. What you’ve written is untrue.