Block that quote!

May 26, 2016

When inaccurate quotes by a defendant can be defamatory

By John C. Henegan, Sr.
MPA General Counsel

2016 henegan, johnEarlier this year in Sioux City, Iowa, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee — when describing the loyalty of his supporters — said that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”  The natural reaction upon first hearing this is stark incredulity: any political candidate who made such a statement would ordinarily be seriously politically damaged by it because it ordinarily raises fundamental questions about his character and judgment. A journalist’s first impulse would be to check its accuracy because the media’s publication of a materially inaccurate quote by a person that is defamatory can give rise to a claim for libel.

In the past there would ordinarily be no question about the authenticity of a person’s statement about herself. The journalist would obtain a quote directly from the person in response during an interview or would report about a statement the person published orally or in print.  As social media becomes in increasing source of information for journalists, ascertaining the authenticity of statements attributed to an individual on social media is going to become increasingly important. Read the rest of this entry »

Religious freedom bill fires up edit pages

April 11, 2016


The first wave of editorials and columns by Mississippi opinion writers since the signing of HB 1523 hit the press over the past several days, and the results ain’t purdy.

The so-called “Religious Freedom” bill not unexpectedly caught the attention of media nationwide and globally. Corporations of Fortune 500 pedigree voiced protest. Celebrities weighed in. Some canceled planned shows in the “Hospitality State.” A who’s who of noted writers and novelists have cried foul.

Associations tasked with marketing the state as friendly place to visit and a nice choice for spending your vacation budget have scrambled to send a message of inclusiveness.

Then, late Monday, there is word some in the legislature will seek a do-over.

And, to be sure, not all the attention has been negative for the state or Gov. Phil Bryant, who signed the bill a few days after it was passed out of the legislature.

But what ink has been spilled over the issue inside the state has been decidedly harsh. Several newspapers, including The Clarion-Ledger and the SunHerald were quick to condemn the legislation as condoning discrimination against the states’s LGBT community. There’s also criticism the bill opens a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences.

Here’s a roundup of what’s being written by Mississippi newspaper media and opinion writers on what’s being touted as a major battle between religious freedom and civil rights in the 21st Century.

WebColumn_Mosby» Ray Mosby, editor and publisher of The Deer Creek Pilot, Rolling Fork – “This bill, this now most unholy law is the state of Mississippi’s codifying discrimination beneath a shroud of religious belief and in the very name of holiness, itself. And if that is not sin a la government, then I don’t know what is.”

» An editorial in the Madison County Journal says the legislature has poked a tiger in the eye with the ill-advised legislation — “Gov. Bryant says the law doesn’t compel anyone to do anything and he’s right. But any yokel should have been able to predict the reaction because the law certainly has the appearance of discrimination against a certain segment, even if it isn’t literally written so.”

» The SunHerald Editorial Board accuses lawmakers of fiddling as Mississippi burns – “It’s too late to save our lawmakers from themselves, but it’s not too late to save Mississippi. We don’t expect them to act, so everyone who opposes this travesty of a law should join us in the chorus of inclusion.

» Rod Guajardo, editor of Tupelo’s Daily Journal writes the bill is damaging Mississippi’s future – “In Mississippi, two leading state business associations and a number of large corporations came out against the bill this week prior to Bryant signing it into law Tuesday. One of those corporations included Toyota, which employs nearly 2,000 in Blue Springs just miles up the road from Tupelo.”

ponder,jace» Jace Ponder, editor and publisher of The Gazebo Gazette, writes in an editorial that the coast delegation in the legislature is breaking form by pushing an increasingly conservative social agenda — “Coast Republicans have traditionally been socially liberal and fiscally conservative. The perfect mix to represent us. Our current Republican leadership seems to have forgotten this.

» Joel McNeece, publisher of The Calhoun County Journal in Bruce writes in a personal blog that Mississippi deserves better – “Many have stated this action by this governor and legislator is a bad solution to a non-existent problem. I couldn’t agree more.”

» Clarion-Ledger Executive Editor Sam R. Hall argues Christianity does not condone discrimination – “This bill, regardless of its intent or what well-meaning citizens believe its intent to be, legalizes discrimination against gay people and transgender people — not to mention people who have extramarital affairs, people who have premarital sex and people who have divorced and remarried.”

» The Commercial Dispatch in Columbus writes in an editorial that Bryant has backed another lost cause – “This is…a loud, embarrassing solution looking for a problem that does not exist. Bryant himself acknowledged this new law does not supersede any federal anti-discrimination laws. By his own admission, the new law achieves absolutely nothing — except, of course, further damage the reputation of our state and its people.”

» Clarion-Ledger Political Editor Geoff Ponder writes the legislature is obsessed with social agendas to the detriment of jobs and education – “Now that they’ve tackled the most important issue facing the state — gay weddings — lawmakers can move on to the more mundane tasks of slashing state budgets and services, underfunding education and crumbling roadways, and wondering why our economy is in the tank when it’s picking up elsewhere.”

Charlie-Mitchell» Syndicated columnist Charlie Mitchell asks how much it costs to do nothing? – “Hypocrisy has never been a popular trait, and this state — deeply dependent on dollars from other American taxpayers — insists again we know better. We are wiser, more prudent and insightful, you know. We honor religion while others don’t.”

» In an editorial, The Sea Coast Echo asks if legislators who voted for HB 1523 truly represent their constituents in Bay St. Louis – “Seems our representatives were more concerned about party politics than of the views of the majority of folks back home. Or maybe they eagerly wanted to pander to the wishes of the governor or those of the Speaker of the House, Philip Gunn, one of the authors of the bill.”

» Kevin Cooper, publisher of The Natchez Democrat answered a call from a gay man who plans to relocate from California to the river city – “He thanked me for my comments against the law, but mostly he was worried and looking for a bit of reassurance. Was Natchez not the gracious, accepting town that he’d grown to love and in which he’d hoped to grow old? As we talked, I felt a sense of deep worry and slight disappointment in his voice.”

» An editorial in The Meridian Star reads the flames of the past are burning still in Mississippi — “The law embraced by the governor and the legislature blatantly says charities, businesses and government employees can discriminate against a fellow Mississippian or visitor to the state based on personal religious beliefs. That covers way more than same-sex marriage. And the consequences will range wide when it comes to attracting businesses, conventions, big-time sporting events and other interstate commerce.”

More to come.

Sunday Reader: 10 years after Katrina

August 23, 2015
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD Katrina Trees, Long Beach, Feb. 12, 2015

Katrina Trees, Long Beach, Feb. 12, 2015

While eyes have been watching Tropical Storm Danny as he barrels toward the Caribbean, hearts and minds have turned to remembering the utter devastation wrought on the Gulf Coast 10 years ago this week. Hurricane Katrina was the defining natural catastrophe of a generation, resetting the bar for our worst fears of what Mother Nature can do.

9-1-05MS_SHThe Sun Herald in Biloxi has been building for weeks to a crescendo of retrospective Katrina+10 coverage that includes the haunting feature Ghosts of Katrina by photographer correspondent John Fitzhugh, which looks expressly at the remnants of the live oaks that a decade later are painful reminders of the storm.

Meanwhile, coverage in The Clarion-Ledger includes many stops along the Gulf Coast, exploring the recovery in arts, infrastructure and day-to-day life at ground zero in Bay St. Louis.

More on the Gulf Coast 10 years after Katrina in today’s Sunday Reader for Aug. 23, 2015:

  • Katrina dolphins: Untold story some believe never should have happened – Sun Herald
  • Tiner: In one awful day, ‘the world we had known was swept away.’ – Newseum
  • Marsha Barbour: ‘The face of Mississippi recovery’ – The Clarion-Ledger
  • Pass Christian native Robin Roberts brings national attention to recovery – The Sea Coast Echo
  • One silver lining: A bigger, better gulf coast airport – Sun Herald
  • Pender: An ordinary, amazing Katrina story – The Clarion-Ledger
  • Famous tree sculptures get a face lift along the coast – The Clarion-Ledger
  • We Remember: Profiles of those lost to the storm – Sun Herald

Sunday Reader: Letter calls for flag change

August 16, 2015

FullSizeRenderThe signatures on the letter read like a Who’s Who of influential, respected and otherwise revered Mississippians. Names like Manning, Freeman, Grisham, Carter, Anderson, Buffett.

The full page ad appearing in the Aug. 16 edition of The Clarion-Ledger calls on Mississippians to look into their hearts and then to the future, embracing a possible state flag design that would be inclusive of all residents.

“It is simply not fair, or honorable. to ask black Mississippians to attend schools, compete in athletic events, work in the public sector, serve in the National Guard, and go about their normal lives with a state flag that glorifies a war fought to keep their ancestors enslaved.”

It’s a powerful message. Will the impact of the message and those who bring it make a difference in the arena of public opinion?

Here are more articles worth ruminating in this Sunday Reader for Aug. 16, 2015.

It’s so bad they’d rather join ISIS?

August 12, 2015


Was it so bad for them that these two kids from Mississippi would rather flee the state and join one of the most notorious global terrorist organizations? Did they suffer from a lack of familial and community support? Or did they just fall for the promotional video to “join the club?”

Either way, the bizarre story has thrust the state into the spotlight of an international story now that the kids – intent on marrying and joining ISIS – tried to do so by catching an international flight from , of all places, Golden Triangle Regional Airport near Columbus.

Here’s the roundup for Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015, provided by Mississippi newspaper media on the story.

Sunday Reader: Primary endorsements

August 2, 2015


Incumbents facing opposition in the Tuesday primaries essentially got the thumbs up from The Clarion-Ledger and other newspapers this week with one notable exception. The controversy surrounding State Auditor Stacy Pickering has given some late-in-the-game traction to the campaign of Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler of Madison. The Madison County Journal, hometown newspaper for Hawkins Butler, also endorsed the Mayor’s insurgent campaign, but added another incumbent to its naughty list – Treasurer Lynn Fitch.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in the goings-on of some politicians who are not up for re-election Tuesday, consider the news that some of the Starkville Board of Aldermen think they’re due a 33 percent pay increase.

Plus, there’s plenty more to sink your mind into with this Sunday Reader for Aug. 2, 2015:

Sunday Reader: Fun at the Fair

July 26, 2015

36275aThe 126th Annual Neshoba County Fair got underway Friday amid searing heat and expected soaring rhetoric from a slate of candidates seeking local and statewide offices. But the better deal may be for fairgoers who will be treated to plenty of great fellowship and food during the central Mississippi tradition. And another perk: The Fair Times, produced annually by the staff of The Neshoba Democrat, will go wall-to-wall this year with seven consecutive daily issues.

One not-to-miss political showdown will arrive Wednesday in the form of speeches delivered by incumbent State Auditor Stacy Pickering and GOP primary challenger Mary Hawkins Butler, longtime mayor the city of Madison. A mushroom cloud of controversy erupted earlier this week around the PIckering campaign and finances that are reportedly under investigation by federal authorities.

Enjoy those stories and a roundup of others in the Sunday Reader for July 26, 2015.

Sunday Reader: Grabblin’ and noodling in Noxubee

July 19, 2015


Ever hand-grabbed a catfish right out of the water? Neither have we. But it’s a very popular thing, evidently.

Ginger Harvey, an intern at The Commercial Dispatch, is a brave young lady. She experienced first hand and waist deep the thrill of hand-grabbing – aka noodling – while on assignment in Noxubee County.

She writes:

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 4.19.43 PMHand-grabbing is a family affair for the Gauntts. The season in Mississippi runs May 1 to July 15, and on Father’s Day, the family’s men — John, Derek, and Derek’s, son Clark, along with John’s brother-in-law Billy Clark, and his son Ben — all went out together. Nothing says, ‘Love you, Dad,’ like wrestling giant fish underwater, right?

More on that and other items of imminent interest in this Sunday Reader for July 19, 2015.

Sunday Reader: The fair, flag & slugburgers

July 12, 2015


For legions of Mississippians, Southerners in general and others dedicated to partying in the red dirt, the rapid approach of the annual Neshoba County Fair outside Philadalphia is a time for rejoicing, lighting up the grill and soaking up as much heat and humidity as Mother Nature can dish out. It’s still a number of days away, but the fairgrounds are bustling with activity.

We suspect one will find no shortage of American flags – nor of the Mississippi flag – on the premises.

Here’s a look this, that and other readables from Mississippi newspapers this Sunday, July 12, 2015.

  • Pender: Legislature should deal with state flag – not punt the issue  – The Clarion-Ledger
  • One outspoken Democrat legislator is standing by the current flag – Daily Journal
  • Gulfport police aim to rid city of criminal subculture – Sun Herald
  • Dept. of Health hosting forum on ‘hodgepodge of dangerous chemicals’ known as spice – The Vicksburg Post
  • ‘Hatchet-Face’ shares her story of surviving Katrina – Sun Herald
  • Yum! Man wins cash and fame for eating most ‘slugburgers’ – Daily Journal

The flag: Heritage and hate

July 10, 2015

On the day the Confederate flag is removed from the Capitol grounds in South Carolina, there is continued debate about the Mississippi flag and calls for a new state banner. And, as the Clarion-Ledger points out in an editorial, while some of the hyperbolic and near hysterical tone of the argument goes too far, there are plenty of measured voices calling for change.

WebColumn_MosbyRay Mosby, editor and publisher of The Deer Creek Pilot and a leading voice in state commentary, has no reason to doubt the flag’s importance in the context of heritage. But, for him at least, that significance has been hijacked by more acrid motives.

He writes:

In a lovely and historic cemetery in the city of Warrenton, Va., there is a Gray Ghost turning over in his grave. I have some reason to infer that: I have been there; I bear his name.

Amid the current flag flap, there has been quite a lot said, some true, some not, about Confederate heritage and because of one Col. John S. Mosby, the “Gray Ghost of the Confederacy,” no one is more entitled to speak to that than am I.

And I am furious. As would he be.


(Editor’s note: An earlier edit of this post ambiguously linked to the C-L editorial. We’ve corrected here to make it clear the link is provided for its worthy read.)


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