HHS Lawyer Responds to Criticism of His Threat to Blogger

by Paul Alan Levy

I wrote recently about a letter from an HHS lawyer, Dale Berkley, that appeared to threaten a blogger with a lawsuit for defamation because the blogger had published a mock interview with a an HHS official which, the demand letter said, could have misled readers into believing that the official had actually made the statements attributed to him.  I criticized the lawyer for raising the prospect of defamation considering the fact that the government cannot be defamed, and that any suit by the official would have been for his personal benefit.

Mr. Berkley has written to me, somewhat acknowledging that sending the letter was mistake, although standing up for the assertion that the mock interview was not sufficiently parodic to avoid being confusing (which is a fair point).  He seems to acknowledge that the reference to "defamation" was a bit too much; rather, he characterizes the subject blog post as a "disservice" to the official.  I am told by a supervisory attorney in his office that he and HHS do not plan to address the issue further.

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