House of Numbers: A Censorship Perspective

This post may seem like a slight deviation from The Purpose of This Site. It is not. I am currently defending my own First Amendment Rights in Federal Court against AIDS Denialist Clark Baker. I think it is important to highlight another current example of AIDS Denialists abusing the legal system to silence another critic. ~TD

Recently the producers of the AIDS Denial film House of Numbers (HoN) began to censor the Free Speech of U.K. Scientist Myles Power. Myles made an excellent series of videos debunking much of what is presented in the film. Over a period of several weeks Myles had posted 5 videos to his youtube channel Myles Power (powerm1985) which has over 22,000 subscribers.

Within two days of posting video #5 starring AIDS Denialist Du jour and Conspiracy Theory Theologian Liam Scheff, video #5 was taken down. It turns out Liam Scheff had filed a False DMCA take down of the video citing Copyright Infringement. Because Liam Scheff holds no rights to the film what he did was illegal. Liam could have faced civil as well as criminal charges under penalty of perjury.

Liam withdrew the allegation one day later but it was not because he realized what he did was cowardly or morally reprehensible: It was so that the legitimate copyright owners could file the DMCA instead. About one day after Liam withdrew the DMCA, the producers Martin Penny and “Knowledge Matters” filed a new DMCA and down came video #5 once more. Two other videos came down next. But they did not stop there. They filed another DMCA against another video. It seems they staggered these filings so that youtube would delete Myles’ account for good.

I am not close to this issue so I am not going to report on the specific controversy. I am going to focus instead on the censorious history of the film itself and the prominent role of Liam Scheff. Since Liam instigated this disgusting display of cowardice, I think it only fitting that I highlight his hypocrisy regarding his role in promoting the movie. As you will see, Mr. Scheff has been extremely vocal about expressing his First Amendment Rights in relation to the film.

The movie House of Numbers (HoN) was released in 2009 and was screened at numerous festivals around America and the U.K. At several of these festivals there were Q&A sessions as is often the case with documentaries. 

Boston Festival

At a screening in Boston there was one such Q&A Session scheduled and detailed by Bay Windows reporter, Ethan Jacobs. The organizers asked Director Brent Leung to be on the panel. Mr. Leung declined and opted to stay in the audience. It seemed strange the he refused to participate, especially because he had participated on such panels in the past.

Kevin Cranston, head of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Infectious Disease, served as moderator, and Cranston invited Leung to participate as a panelist, although Leung elected to remain in the audience. 

But the melee that ensued seems to reveal the duplicitous reasoning behind his decision. From the detailed reporting by Bay Windows, it appears to me the supporters of HoN may have wanted to manufacture a controversy that the panel was stacked against them.

A panel discussion about a controversial AIDS documentary,House of Numbers, descended into a screaming match April 21 at the Boston International Film Festival, with both the film’s director, Brent Leung, and other members of the audience shouting down and attempting to drown out the remarks of Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, an HIV expert and Harvard Medical School professor who was interviewed in the film. 

In the middle of Kuritzkes’s speech Leung and several other audience members shouted over him, “This is not a panel!” and, “Where’s the panel?” The shouting reached a fever pitch when Kuritzkes began reading a list of names of AIDS denialists who allegedly died of complications from AIDS. 

Screaming was not sufficient for our Defender of Free Speech, Liam Scheff. He stormed the stage and forcibly sat at the panelist table and refused to leave.

As Kuritzkes began reading from a prepared statement two members of the audience who appeared in the film walked down to the front of the theater, sat beside Boswell and Kuritzkes at the panelists’ table and refused to leave. Those audience members, Christian Fiala, an Austrian gynecologist, and Liam Scheff, identified in the film as a freelance journalist, both claimed that they were forcibly joining the panel to provide balance…Fiala and Scheff remained seated at the panelists’ table for the rest of the program. 

This was not sufficient for Mr. Scheff. He did not agree with the reporter, Ethan Jacobs. (As you will see below, Mr. Scheff has a history of chastising other reporters and accusing them of bias and worse.) Mr. Scheff, exercising his Free Speech, wrote a letter to Mr. Jacobs and Bay Windows printed it. In the letter Scheff accuses Jacobs of shoddy journalism at the least:

The Tuesday night screening of House of Numbers turned into a “Crazy House’” indeed! But you’ve reversed the scenario in your reporting. (See “Crazy House,” April 23)

I’m sure you left those details out for some good reason.

and maybe even libels him:

And finally, is the AIDS industry honest? Is it even slightly honest? And are you in the bag for all things AIDS? I think based on your “report,” we know the answers to at least some of these questions.

Aside from Mr. Scheff’s attempt to shame the journalist, he also tries to set the record straight about the panel. Scheff admits that he and others in the film including Director Leung were invited to come to the Festival by the organizers.

… the reality was that those of us in the film, who were invited from far and wide to the festival, were also told, as was Mr. Leung, the director, that we were all to be on a bi-partisan panel – a panel open to the “establishment,” and its critics.

We were told that we were to be part of an open discussion about some the controversial statements revealed in the film,…

But once they got there, well, it is at this point that Mr. Scheff becomes a little less direct about why they were left to scream from the audience and storm the stage:

So, when your “expert” arrived on the scene to “debunk” the movie — a film that had been accepted to a festival — we who were in the film thought we were going to be part of an open discussion. After all, this would have been the same consideration shown to your “expert,” who was also in the film. But he was given center stage, the rest were excluded and, to use your word, “silenced.” The room was shut down…

Mr. Scheff would have the readers believe that they came to the Festival accepting a direct and explicit invitation from the organizers to participate and be part of the panel. But when they got there they were “excluded” and “silenced” and “the room was shut down”. It is contradictory and just doesn’t make sense. Were they Punk’d Ashton Kutcher style? Obviously the room was not shut down: They were inside. They were not silenced: They shouted down the panel. They were not excluded: Scheff and Fiala were on stage, albeit forcibly, but on stage.

Nashville Festival

After a screening at the Nashville Festival Director Leung and his supporters showed their hypocrisy according to this report by Jim Ridley:

“Raising questions is what a film festival does,” Widelitz says. At the post-film panel, though, he says the filmmakers “didn’t help their case,” either with their handpicked panel (which tilted the opposite direction as Boston’s) or their “aggressive” treatment of audience members who disagreed.

In the comment section of a different report by Jack Silverman about the screening of HoN at the Nashville Festival, Liam Scheff’s hypocrisy is on full display. Early in his comment Scheff compares the Ugandan Nevirapine trials to the Tuskegee Experiments. Then later, without a hint of irony, rips into the news source at which he is commenting for comparing HoN with “Triumph of the Will” (Nazi propaganda film):

“The attack your paper is fronting, comparing an investigative piece such as “House of Numbers,” which features dialogue with the top of the mainstream speaking in detail about the limits of their work – comparing this with “Triumph of the Will,” for example (see Jim Ridley’s recent piece) is pure hate speech, demonstrating the hysteria-driven loathing and fear the industry piles upon any who offer fair criticism.”

Please read the entire, disturbing comment. Scheff spews hate and vengeance with aplomb and skill. He accuses the reporter and the paper itself of being less than objective, even accusing them of libeling those who in Mr. Scheff’s opinion, accurately investigate and report on “AIDS Inc’s murders and failures.” Unfortunately what is really on display is Scheff’s own lack of objectivity. The hypocrisy would be funny if the rant were not so emotionally scarring and devoid of humanity.

Conclusion

Liam Scheff is so concerned with his own Freedom of Speech that he appears on panels, forcibly in at least one instance, and writes and publishes Editorials and comments. But when it comes to those same rights for others, Mr. Scheff resorts to potential criminal behavior by filing DMCA take downs of videos that he has no actual copyrights. Where is the justice in that?

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