Tabloid Harassment?

A face transplant recipient gets restraining order against U.K. company

A Fort Worth, Texas, house painter who received one of the country's first face transplants has obtained a restraining order against tabloid outlet Barcroft Media, claiming that its constant hounding and underhanded story mongering has jeopardized his recovery.

Barcroft, however, says the restraining order is not constitutional.

Dallas Wiens, 25, who was horribly disfigured by a high voltage wire in 2008, claims that Barcroft forged his signature on a contract giving away the rights to his story for one British pound. Wiens also claims that the company stiffed him $1,500 on a deal that was supposed to be a "heartwarming human interest story" for the holiday issue of a British women's magazine.

A Texas judge approved a temporary restraining order last week preventing the company from publishing his story or photos.

Wiens suffered near-fatal injuries when he hit a power line while painting the outside of Ridglea Baptist Church in Fort Worth. The high voltage blast burned his face into his skull and left him in a coma for three months. The 20-plus surgeries that saved his life destroyed what was left of his face. He was left without lips, eyes, ears, and a nose.

His injuries also made him a huge media story when he qualified for Brigham & Women's Hospital's experimental face transplant surgery. In January 2009 a reporter with Barcroft—which normally specializes in sensational fare with titles like "Stripper Mum and Daughter" and "I Starved Myself for Model Look"—reached out to Wiens and his grandparents, who he lives with, asking for exclusive rights to his story, according to court papers.

The family, who was fielding offers from many media outlets but had not granted any interviews, turned them down.

Several months later, Barcroft proposed a second offer, Wiens' lawyer says. They offered him $1,500 and said they would give him copies of all photographs, footage, and interview material for his review before publishing. Financially strapped at the time, Wiens alleges that he agreed to be interviewed under those conditions. He claims not to have received a copy of the contract and has yet to approve the article or any of the photos and video that was taken.

In March of this year, Wiens underwent a 16-hour procedure involving 32 surgeons to receive the country’s third face transplant. According to the complaint, Barcroft reporters and photographers swarmed the Boston hospital seeking interviews from doctors and family, even calling and texting Wiens himself.

"Still under sedation from his surgery, [Wiens] answered one of the initial calls," said his lawyer Lisa Jamieson.

Jamieson told Barcroft that her client was not interested in telling them his story, but they persisted. Barcroft, said Jamieson, "has used every tactic imaginable to try and gain access" to Wiens, even producing an exclusive contract signed by him for one British pound—less than two American dollars.

She says it's a forgery.

Wiens would not talk to Adweek for this story, but he does have his own website and a public relations firm that still fields press inquiries. Barcroft declined to discuss specifics of the allegations.

"The team at Barcroft Media were surprised and disappointed by the recent action brought by representatives of Mr. Dallas Wiens," they said in a statement. "We had enjoyed an excellent working relationship with Mr. Wiens and his family. The allegations brought in court proceedings are without merit, and we are working with our legal team to address them. Barcroft Media is a well-respected British media agency which is proud of its achievements and looks forward to setting the record straight."

The company's lawyer also questioned the legality of the restraining order.

"It is not constitutional," said the Barcroft lawyer Bob Latham. "A prior restraint on the press of that nature cannot survive constitutional scrutiny, and we will certainly be addressing that issue. The judge only heard one side of the case."