McKinney Claims Defamation, Demands News Retraction

July 7, 2008 - 7:23 PM

(1st Add: Includes comment from Atlanta Journal and Constitution)

(CNSNews.com) - United States Rep. Cynthia McKinney, embroiled in controversy since a March 29 altercation with Capitol Hill police and facing a tough Democratic primary in her Georgia district, has demanded that the Atlanta Journal Constitution retract an editorial critical of her.

Contrary to other media reports, McKinney has not yet filed a lawsuit against the newspaper, according to her attorney.

Capitol Hill Officer Paul McKenna stopped McKinney in March when she tried to bypass a metal detector. She was not at the time wearing a pin identifying her as a member of Congress. According to the police report, McKinney struck the officer "in his chest with a closed fist."

In a July 30 editorial, the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) wrote that McKinney "slugged [McKenna] with her cellphone," and the newspaper criticized the congresswoman for a statement she made in 2002 about the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.

According to the Atlanta paper, McKinney had "suggested that 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."

In a July 31 letter to the editor and publisher of the newspaper, McKinney's lawyer, J.M. Raffauf, demanded a retraction based on Georgia libel law. The letter did not explicitly threaten a lawsuit, but demanded a retraction.

In the letter, Raffauf called the newspaper's characterization of the Capitol Police incident a "false allegation [that] is not supported by any witness or any other evidence." It accused AJC editor Cynthia Tucker of "maliciously attempting to spin this into a felony by falsely alleging that she assaulted the officer with a deadly weapon."

Under Georgia law, if a potential plaintiff requests in writing that a newspaper retract allegedly libelous statements and the newspaper does retract them within seven days, the plaintiff would not be entitled to punitive damages.

Conversely, if the potential plaintiff requests a retraction but the newspaper refuses, the plaintiff may seek punitive damages through a libel suit, using the letter as evidence of a request for retraction.

Raffauf told Cybercast News Service that the decision to file a libel lawsuit will be made "after the AJC has had an appropriate time to respond and after we have reviewed any response."

He said the "malicious defamation they have practiced cries out for a remedy."

In the editorial, the paper attributed the cell phone accusation to the officer who was hit. "When he stopped her, the officer said, she slugged him with her cellphone," the paper wrote.

Raffauf told Cybercast News Service that Officer McKenna "never said she hit him with a cellphone." The official police report states that McKinney "struck [McKenna] in his chest with a closed fist" and does not mention a cell phone.

The National Journal reported that during the incident, "McKinney pulled her arm away, swung around, cell phone in hand, and punched the officer square in his chest, according to the witness." The Hill newspaper reported that McKinney "struck the officer in the chest with her cell phone." Raffauf declined to comment on whether McKinney plans to pursue legal action against other publications that reported the cell phone claim.

Tom Clyde, an attorney for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, declined to comment for this report beyond saying that "there's not a case" in McKinney's claims of libel.

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