Losing candidate files suit against newspaper

Monday, April 20, 1998

Attorneys for The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle have asked a South Carolina judge to dismiss a libel lawsuit against the newspaper on free-speech and free-press grounds.

Tom Anderson, a former Democratic candidate for a state House seat in the South Carolina legislature, said that he was libeled by an editorial published by the paper in October 1996.

The editorial apparently chided Anderson for claiming he was called into the National Guard in 1996. Anderson claims the paper knew that he did not serve in the Guard but was instead assisting the National Flood Insurance Company in assessing hurricane damage.

Anderson accused Trey Walker, executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, of distributing the editorial throughout Aiken County, S.C. Anderson subsequently lost the 1997 election to state Rep. Roland Smith, R-Langley.

The statements at issue, the paper maintains, constitute “fair comment and neutral reportage concerning matters of general public interest and concern, and were published in good faith and without actual malice.”

Dennis Sodomka, the paper's executive editor, said: “We feel like we have the right to make comments on issues on our editorial page.”

According to the paper's response, the Chronicle claims to have “afforded [Anderson] every opportunity to state his version of the matter,” including publishing a letter from him in its Letters to the Editor section. Anderson was asked to provide documentation of his claim regarding the National Flood Insurance Program but failed to do so, the response also states.

Filed in Aiken County Common Pleas Court, Anderson's suit names the paper, parent company Morris Communications Corp. and Walker as defendants.

Walker said that he “hasn't been contacted, hasn't been served.” In fact, the only knowledge he has of Anderson's suit has come from press accounts in the Chronicle, he said.