Burzynski: In dire need of credibility

By Keir Liddle

download (1)The Burzynski clinic has, of late, had something of a public relations problem. No longer are the majority of sites on the internet uncritically praising the maverick doctor and his miraculous “natural” cure for seemingly ever cancer that has ever mutated.

Thanks to a high profile Twitter campaign that was supportive of a family raising funds to send a person to the clinic and a couple of UK Skeptic red flags – “groundbreaking treatment” and “not available on the NHS”, there was a marked increase in scrutiny of the Burzynski Clinic and the poorly named Burzynski Research Institute (which has to date published no results of the numerous clinical trials Burzynski has “conducted”).

The explosion of interest in Burzynski can be traced back to the efforts of Marc Stephens who reacted to this criticism by attempting a nonsensical legal chill. The high point of which was probably the red arrow email which he sent to several prominent UK Skeptics claiming they were part of a conspiratorial skeptic society funded by big pharma. The low point was sending Rhys Morgan an “I know where you live email” complete with pictures and a map showing Rhys’s house.

What Marc Stephens didn’t realise was that UK Skeptics don’t take kindly to libel threats, ever since the British Chiropractic Association attempted to sue Simon Singh, and a spectacular Streisand effect spread like wildfire across the internet.

Had this not happened the blogs might have been ignored by the mainstream media and the controversy would have remained hidden behind a sickening veneer of “human interest” stories about the latest family seeking the extortionate funds Burzynski requires to deal them his particular brand of false hope.

Marc Stephens has since parted company with the clinic and they now have a new PR consultant*. First spotted at the Burzynski clinic Christmas party, former investigative journalist Wayne Dolcefino appears to have taken the reins of the clinic’s PR. Dolcefinos company, Dolcefino Communications LLC offers media training, crisis communications, political consulting and
opposition research.

The Burzynski clinic is certainly in need of some crisis management regarding the current “negative” press arising from skeptical scrutiny and criticism. It is in crisis because people noticed in over 35 years of working with antineoplastons Burzynski has not published a single peer reviewed publication from any of his 60 odd trials for various cancers. It is in crisis because skeptics have cast Burzynski’s dubious legal history into the light of day and exposed the ethical warnings Burzynskis IRB have received from the FDA. The clinic is in crisis because of the damage done to patients like Lola Quinlan and the FDA’s lumbering bureaucracy has seemingly stepped in to stop Burzynski prescribing ANPs at least temporarily while the clinic is audited.

But who is Dolcefino? Well he is a former investigative journalist and for nearly 26 years he headed up the ABC-owned station’s 13 Undercover unit. Over the course of his career Dolfecino exposed corruption that led to Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole’s resignation and the indictment of Harris County Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino on four felony offenses.

One of Dolcefino’s investigations landed him in legal hot water after he implicated State Rep. Sylvester Turner in a $6.5 million insurance scam. Costing Turner the Houston Mayoral election. Though the supreme court later overturned this decision. A blog case study of the case can be found here. As you can see the case was brought by Turner because he believed that the Dolcefino report implicated him in an insurance fraud perpetuated by one of his acquaintances.

Dolcefino’s defence was twofold:

That every statement in the report was on its face accurate. Because of the libel requires falsity, Turner could not prevail in the suit.
That Turner, as a public official and public figure, must show actual malice and would not be able to do so. Essentially, he would have to prove Dolcefino and KTRK knew the publication was false or acted with reckless disregard to the truth.

In the original case the court ruled against the first defence but accepted the second. The court said it was possible to recover for “libel by implication,” essentially arranging true facts in a way that the overall impression were false. This decision was subsequently overturned by supreme court appeal.

Reportedly one of Dolcefino’s first clients was former Houston attorney Ben Hall who has hired Dolcefino to dig for dirt on his opponent in the upcoming Houston mayoral elections incumbent Annise Parker. But this news was later denied by Hall and by Dolcefino himself.

One wonders if he will be tasked with digging up any dirt on the skeptics who have criticised Burzynski? I wish him luck finding any dirt on me and look forward to Peter Bowditch being the victim of yet another case of mistaken identity. Or if his job will simply be to help the clinic weather yet another storm of criticism?

Whatever his specific role Wayne Dolcefino has a huge job ahead of him to turn around the clinic’s fortunes but one wonders why someone whose companies motto is “credibility when you need it most” has chosen to represent someone who completely lacks scientific or medical credibility.

* UPDATE (12/02/12 16:58)

There has been a lot of tweeting from the anonymous Burzynski shill about this argument questioning the evidence that Dolcefino has indeed taken on the role of clinic PR.

Well as the text below, from an email sent to some high profile former patients and critics of the clinic confirms he does indeed seem to have the job. Or at least claims to have taken it:

My name is Wayne Dolcefino . I am former investigative reporter at KTRK TV Houston and now have a media consulting company. Dr. Burzynskis office has retained my company to assist them in establishing, how should I say it, more mature conversations with people who have issues with the clinic.

If Dolcefino is not representing the clinic one wonders who is impersonating him or indeed why he may have taken it upon himself to declare a non-existent financial connection.

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