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Editor’s note: In its more than four-year history, WorldNetDaily has published only one other “editorial” – a collective expression of the company’s viewpoint rather than a commentary by one individual or another. The first opposed efforts to impose new taxes on the Internet. As a result of the first, in a period of only a few weeks, WorldNetDaily collected nearly 40,000 electronic “signatures” on an online petition that was turned over to the national commission investigating the tax proposals. The commission recommended Congress place a moratorium on any immediate plans. This second editorial takes on an equally vital threat to our First Amendment liberties – a $165 million libel suit against WorldNetDaily.
U.S. District Court Judge James Todd, in Jackson, Tenn., has remanded the $165 million lawsuit filed by Democratic Party official and Al Gore crony Clark Jones, against WorldNetDaily and others to the Hardin County, Tenn., courthouse where it was initially filed.
The decision does not bode well for future First Amendment cases in Tennessee – or, for that matter, by fiercely independent New Media around the country.
The Hardin County courthouse community is a labyrinth of potential conflicts of interest and partisan politics, where one of the two circuit judges has already declared that he considers Jones a private citizen — not a public figure — despite numerous national news stories detailing Jones’ fund-raising prowess for Gore, his tenures as state Democratic Party treasurer and state treasurer of Tennessee Democratic Victory 2000 and his appointment by President Clinton to the White House Commission on Small Business.
Jones’ attorney, J. Houston Gordon, battled to have the lawsuit remanded to the state court in Hardin County, where he enjoys a political advantage over the defendants. Gordon was former chairman of the Tennessee State Democratic Party, was trounced in his 1998 bid to unseat popular incumbent Republican Sen. Fred Thompson and was active in last year’s campaign for the presidency by Gore.
Jones, a Savannah, Tenn., car dealer, and former Tennessee State Democratic Party official, raised more than $100,000 for Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign. According to sources close to Jones, he was stung by a comprehensive WorldNetDaily series, which among other things reported that Jones had allegedly been under investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation as a drug dealer. Jones vehemently denied dealing drugs, but TBI deputy director Ed Holt confirmed that such an investigation had taken place.
Jones frequently bragged to other Tennessee businessmen about his close links to Gore, and sources say he was humiliated by Gore’s loss of his home state, which cost Gore the election. WorldNetDaily’s uncompromising series on Gore and his cronies, such as Clark Jones, arguably played a major factor in Gore’s loss, according to some Tennessee political observers.
Moreover, these observers say, the choice of venue by Jones and Gordon was no mere accident. A rundown on the Hardin County courthouse players demonstrates that Jones and Gordon have more than one friend at court. Chancery Judge Ron Harmon, a large land speculator, was part and parcel of the same Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe as Jones. The two are extremely close. Harmon normally doesn’t handle libel cases, restricting his load to divorce, child custody and property cases. Harmon is also the former law partner of Circuit Judge C. Creed McGinley.
McGinley, who could hear the Jones libel case, has an arguably high reversal rate. He formerly served as Hardin County’s assistant district attorney under
District Attorney General Gus Radford. Chancellor Ron Harmon attended the
University of Memphis law school with Radford, and a team of Radford’s
agents were involved in the Harmon investigation.
McGinley, an inveterate talker, willingly supplied information to Tony Hays, one of the authors of the WND series, about Hardin County Sheriff Robert Alexander, Clark Jones and other figures who could play an evidentiary role in Jones’ lawsuit. McGinley has also publicly argued that despite Jones’ well-publicized role as major backer of Al Gore and state politician, the car dealer is a private citizen. If that were true, WorldNetDaily would not be afforded protections provided by the U.S. Supreme Court in its defense. The highest court of the land has ruled that the media should enjoy the widest possible latitude in cases involving public figures, meaning actual malice and reckless disregard would have to be proven.
District Attorney General Gus Radford, a self-proclaimed close friend of TBI Director Larry Wallace, whose agency was battered by the WND series for corruption and political favoritism, is an outspoken defender of Clark Jones. Last fall, when the WorldNetDaily series ran prominently mentioning Jones, Radford made a special trip from his office in Huntington, Tenn., to Hardin County (about 80 miles) to have lunch with Jones in the county’s most popular restaurant. By Radford’s own admission, this was a calculated move to show his support for Jones in the face of the investigative series. Radford has publicly expressed his contempt for Hardin County and its drug crisis in the past by saying: “I don’t care what happened to that county. They are just a bunch of illiterates anyway.”
Last year, Radford went further than just publicly dining with Jones. He managed to dampen the enthusiasm of a popular young Democratic state legislator to continue calling for a TBI drug investigation in Hardin County as well as a probe of TBI Director Wallace. It occurred while the legislator, Randy Rinks, Radford and Judge McGinley were playing golf on a state course near Pickwick Lake.
Radford and McGinley stoutly defended Wallace to Rinks, telling him they didn’t believe any of the allegations subsequently contained in the WorldNetDaily series. Rinks, who is House Democratic Caucus chairman, had requested a wide-sweeping TBI drug investigation following a mass meeting in Savannah of irate citizens. This investigation was allegedly aborted after Clark Jones met with TBI officials.
The only odd-man-out in the Hardin courthouse would seem to be Circuit Judge Julian P. Guinn, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate. But like the other jurists, Guinn is a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, who missed his share of patronage in the Gore debacle. Guinn began an active ex parte intercourse with attorney Houston Gordon. Ex parte means one-sided. The Tennessee Bar Association says it’s not permitted. It’s not necessarily illegal, but can be a disbarrable offense. Although Guinn has not been assigned the case, his ex parte communications make it seem so.
Finally there is General Sessions Judge Danny Smith, who hears criminal cases that carry a lesser sentence. His wife, Martha Smith, is also the clerk and master of Chancellor Ron Harmon’s court.
There are probably other examples of such incestuous judicial relationships like these around the country. But when these elements go on the offensive to protect one of their own, regardless of the evidence, that doesn’t bode well for the country at large and certainly is a violation, in fact as well as in spirit, of the First Amendment.
So far, our colleagues in the national media have taken little interest in this assault on a free press. They probably think this sort of thing can’t happen to them – with their vast financial resources and pool of in-house legal talent. But this lawsuit and other frivolous attempts to stifle reporting on high-profile public figures will have a chilling effect on independent investigative reporting across the country.
That’s why today, we at WorldNetDaily, are appealing to you – our millions of readers across the country – to get involved in this case. There are two ways you can help us defend our collective and individual First Amendment liberties:
- Spread the word: Send this editorial to those you know at major media outlets and ask them to report on the facts of this lawsuit. Operating in a media blackout puts WorldNetDaily at a disadvantage. The good-old-boy judicial network in Hardin County is no place for such a critical test of First Amendment freedoms.
- Support our Legal Defense Fund: It takes money to fight lawsuits – lots of money, especially when the complainant is a wealthy, politically connected businessman with a proven track record of raising money for national political causes. You can do this in any amount starting at $1. If you believe in an independent press – and WorldNetDaily’s reporting in particular – this is your chance to support us and encourage our determined efforts to seek the truth no matter where it leads. Contributions can be made online. Or you can phone them toll-free in to our customer service department 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.
Thank you from all of us at WorldNetDaily.