SAVANNAH, Tenn. — Local businessman and Democratic Party activist Clark Jones has filed a $165 million libel suit against WorldNetDaily.com and reporters Charles C. Thompson II and Tony Hays, along with numerous other defendants.
The lawsuit revolves around a series of 18 investigative reports published by WND between September and December 2000, most of them documenting charges of corruption involving then-Vice President Al Gore and others in Gore’s home state of Tennessee.
Jones claims personal embarrassment and humiliation as a result of some of the articles, which said that he reportedly intervened in a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into narcotics trafficking in Hardin County in 1999. In addition, the car dealer claims that the articles implicated him in the 1980 arson of his own business, the Jones Motor Company, and also pegged him as a suspected drug dealer. He claims business losses and health problems resulted from the series as well.
WND has consistently stood by the stories and their authors, Savannah resident Tony Hays and McLean, Va., resident Charles C. Thompson II. Thompson and Hays have repeatedly defended their work.
“We did a proper, ethical investigation,” said Thompson. “And the spurious claims of Clark Jones can’t and won’t win.” To date, despite repeated opportunities, Jones and his attorney have failed to provide any evidence refuting any of the allegations contained in the series other than Jones’ denials, which were duly reported in the articles in question.
Hays’ 20-part series on drug trafficking in west Tennessee was primarily responsible for the Courier of Savannah winning the 2000 Public Service Award from the Tennessee Press Association. He has published two novels, numerous magazine and newspaper articles on Tennessee political corruption, and a history of the Savannah area, the last through a grant from the Tennessee Historical Commission.
Thompson, who started his journalism career in print media, soon moved to television, where he captured an Emmy for his investigative reporting as well as the Headliner’s Award. He worked for a number of years as Mike Wallace’s producer at CBS’s 60 Minutes and was a founding producer of ABC’s 20/20. His investigation into the explosion of “gun turret two” on the U.S.S. Iowa in 1989 resulted in a book, published by W.W. Norton in 1999 and a movie which premiered this month, starring James Caan.
Also named in the suit were five John Does and five Jane Does, as well as the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., WSIB-AM in Selmer, Tenn., the Decatur County Chronicle, WTVF Newschannel 5 in Nashville, the Savannah Snitch, the Savannah Journal, Larry Brinton, a commentator for WTVF and H.J. Maxedon of Selmer.
According to legal experts, the burden of proof in any libel suit rests with the plaintiff. Jones is represented by former state Democratic Party leader and U.S. Senate candidate Houston Gordon of Covington, Tenn., and Savannah attorney Curt Hopper. WorldNetDaily.com, Thompson and Hays are represented by First Amendment specialist Michael F. Pleasants of Memphis, Tenn.
The lawsuit was filed in the Hardin County, Tenn., Circuit Court.
“Some people have evidently been made uncomfortable by this series of stories,” said Joseph Farah, editor of WorldNetDaily.com. “I’m not surprised. Good journalism often makes people uncomfortable. But uncomfortable does not equate with inaccurate, libelous, actionable, unfair or malicious. WorldNetDaily has made every effort to ensure that its reporting in this series –- and in everything it has covered -– was fair, honest, truthful, balanced and accurate.”
Editor’s note: WorldNetDaily has established a Legal Defense Fund to offset legal costs in defending itself against this lawsuit. Contributions can be made online, or by calling WND toll-free at 1-877-909-1776. Also, a check, made payable to WorldNetDaily Legal Defense Fund, can be mailed to: WorldNetDaily.com, Inc., P.O. Box 409, Cave Junction, OR 97523.