Cynthia McKinney Sues Atlanta Journal-Constitution for Libel
(APN) ATLANTA — Former US Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) has sued the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper for libel, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.
The lawsuit was filed on July 26, 2007, in State Court of Fulton County, according to a copy of the court filing obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.
The lawsuit focuses on what McKinney argues to be false claims in a July 30, 2006, Editorial written by the AJC’s Editorial Page Editor, Cynthia Tucker. Tucker received a Pulitzer Prize for a series of columns that year including that one.
McKinney claims that she requested a correction from the AJC in a letter dated July 31, 2006, and that the AJC refused to do so in a response dated August 15, 2006.
Tucker’s column, “Voters Can See Through McKinney,” focused on an incident several months earlier, where the Congresswoman had been stopped by Capitol Hill Police in Washington, DC.
While a news item in the AJC about the lawsuit yesterday mentions only one substantive claim relating to Tucker’s column, there are actually five “false and defamatory statements” listed in the suit.
First, the suit says that Tucker wrote, “She slugged him with her cell phone,” to describe McKinney’s response to the police officer that day. “This false and libelous allegation is not supported by any witness or other evidence.”
According to a copy of Tucker’s column obtained by APN, Tucker wrote, “When he stopped her, the officer said, she slugged him with her cellphone.” While the AJC attributes the claim to the officer–“the officer said”–by the time of the column’s publication, the Grand Jury had already failed to indict McKinney. Thus, it was selective of the AJC to only include the officer’s alleged remarks.
McKinney argues that Tucker tried to spin the event into a felony, based on the claim McKinney assaulted an officer with a weapon.
Second, Tucker wrote the officer had “stopped her,” instead of “admitting the officer used force against the Congresswoman.” While this would be libel by omission, this statement in juxtaposition to the first, completely alters the character of who used force in the incident.
However, the article only states the officer said he stopped her, but does not state whether force was used. The article does include McKinney’s claims that she was inappropriately touched.
Third, Tucker wrote that McKinney’s father, “a spokesman for her campaign,” made what Tucker interpreted to be anti-Semitic statements. Indeed, Tucker wrote this. McKinney denies that her father was a spokesperson for her or the campaign.
Fourth, Tucker wrote, McKinney “suggested President Bush had known in advance about the Sept. 11 attacks but did nothing to stop them so his friends could profit from the ensuing war.” Tucker did write this.
The audio recording and transcript of McKinney’s actual remarks on Bush and September 11, 2001, were presented in the movie, American Blackout, and the record shows that McKinney never said what Tucker claims she did, despite the insistence of the AJC and other media outlets.
Fifth, McKinney takes issue with a statement by Tucker that McKinney “doesn’t have the power or prestige to pass a resolution in support of sweetened iced tea.” Tucker did write this, but of the five claims, this one appears to be more related to an opinion–perhaps unfounded–by Tucker, an Editorial writer, than a misstatement of fact.
The lawsuit also makes a shocking claim that someone from the AJC called in a bomb threat to McKinney’s District Office on June 12, 2006.
The filing includes affidavits signed by several office workers on July 06, 2006, who attest that an investigation by a Dekalb Police Officer Brannan into the bomb threats found that the call did indeed come from the AJC’s phone number.
Additionally, the lawsuit complains that the AJC published a deceptive news article on August 03, 2006, in the days before McKinney’s questioned election loss, which appears to report that McKinney’s father, Billy McKinney, had just been indicted.
That article was titled “Gwinnett consultant indicted on election law charges,” and “Associate to Bill McKinney also faces charges.” The article said, “Political consultant Bill McKinney” was indicted. But, the person indicted was named William Dennis McKinney, a White political consultant in Gwinnett County, “essential facts omitted from the Cox story.”
While it may have been technically true that “Bill McKinney” was indicted–depending on whether William Dennis actually uses the nickname Bill–the impact was to confuse Atlanta readers. Even though the AJC has reported repeatedly on the McKinney family, it did not let readers know this particular Bill McKinney was not related to the Billy McKinney that the AJC often reports on.
“The allegations in the lawsuit are not just frivolous, they’re preposterous. Libel suits aren’t vehicles to rewrite history,” Peter Canfield, attorney for the AJC, said, according the newspaper’s own article about the suit.
About the author:
Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of The Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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