Newspaper, sons of Arkansas governor settle defamation suit

Monday, August 16, 1999

Arkansas Gov. M...
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has declared victory for the families of all public officials after his sons reached a settlement in the defamation lawsuit they brought against the Little Rock Free Press.

“It should serve notice that it's one thing to speak out against someone in public office, but that no one has a constitutional right to tell lies about children — even the children of public officials,” Huckabee said in his Aug. 12 news conference.

An article published in a May edition of the Little Rock Free Press, a biweekly alternative newspaper, “has no factual basis,” according to a statement from the Free Press distributed in conjunction with the governor's news release.

In its May 12-25 edition, the Free Press ran a column criticizing what it called biased treatment of marijuana-legalization issues in the media. Jack Page's column said that a son of the governor had been “caught with cannabis in his school locker and only [received] a short suspension for a token punishment.” In June, David Huckabee, 18, and his brother, John Mark, 22, sued the Free Press for libel.

The governor said the settlement required the Free Press to publish an apology on the cover of its next edition. After the apology, the Free Press is not to discuss the disagreement again, according to the governor's news release. The newspaper also is to pay an amount not to be disclosed by either side.

Free Press Publisher Dotty Oliver would not comment on the settlement, saying she wanted to be sure not to violate its terms. She said she would respond in the next edition of her newspaper on August 18.

Before the settlement, Oliver had defended the column by Page, president of the Arkansas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

In July, Oliver said, “We have never done unsubstantiated charges against anyone.” She said there were former classmates of David Huckabee, 18, who would confirm the assertion in the article.

But in the July 21-August 3 edition of the paper, Oliver wrote that her source was now denying the story. She also said that she had not read Page's column before the newspaper was published. “I remember thinking that I wished he hadn't mentioned that story,” Oliver wrote.

The Free Press' apology, released August 12, reads, “The Little Rock Free Press acknowledges that it published a statement about the sons of Governor and Mrs. Huckabee which has no factual basis. The Little Rock Free Press and its publisher sincerely regret that this statement, which we have no reason to believe is true, was published. The Little Rock Free Press and its publisher offer their apology to the sons of the Huckabees.”