Evans v. The Huffington Post and Ashley Feinberg, No. 1:19-cv-00536 (S.D. Miss.). Complaint filed August 21, 2019. Defendants’ answer due October 16, 2019.
In September, 2018, the Huffington Post and its reporter, Ashley Feinberg, clamoring for background on the appointment and confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, published an article describing a raucous, drug-fueled atmosphere at the elite Georgetown Preparatory School that Kavanaugh had attended.
The Huffington Post article intimated that the students’ lives were so degenerate as to implicate two of them, including the plaintiff, then a Georgetown Preparatory School student, in the 1984 overdose death of David Kennedy, son of Robert Kennedy, in Palm Beach, Florida.
The Huffington Post asserted that Derrick Evans, today a teacher and social and environmental justice advocate, was involved in procuring the drugs that killed Kennedy.
When Douglas Kennedy, David Kennedy’s brother, who was said to have been with Evans in Florida, insisted on retraction, the Huffington Post agreed and complied, sanitizing the statements about Kennedy, but leaving — and allegedly underscoring — the statements about Evans.
The published “correction” was compounded by indicating that support for its statements could be found in an affidavit said to be in the possession of the New York Times. Evans asserts that no such affidavit exists and that in fact he participated in the identification and arrest of the individuals who actually provided drugs to David Kennedy.
Further corrections referenced “mischaracterization” of individuals’ involvement. Evans claims this correction is not sufficient because, in the absence of any involvement in David Kennedy’s death, there can be no mischaracterization.
The story was further refined and references removed.
Evans maintains that the publication accused him of criminal activity, making it libel per se. Evans alleges that Huffington Post’s failure to sufficiently confirm or disconfirm the statements published made the publication malicious and with willful disregard of the truth or falsity of the statements.
Defendants are to answer on October 16. Until then, and perhaps always, editors may do well not to place reliance on any purported curative powers of corrections.