MISSISSIPPI – The staff of the DailyMississippian student newspaper is sleeping a little easierafter successfully avoiding a libel suit.
“We had just gotten a bunch of new computers in the newsroom,”said Chris Thompson, editor of the Daily Mississippian,the student newspaper at the University of Mississippi. “Myfirst thought when I was handed the suit was, ‘There go our newcomputers!'”
The crisis began on April 16 when the Hinds County Circuit Courtserved Thompson with a summons that named the Daily Mississippianas a defendant, along with 17 commercial newspapers and syndicatedcolumnist, Bill Minor. The plaintiff, Rex Armistead, was allegingthat Minor libeled him in an April column, which had been reprintedin the publications. Armistead was seeking $2 million in defamation-relateddamages.
“Instead of just going after the columnist, the plaintiffdecided to sue some deep pockets,” according to Ralph Braseth,director of student media at the University of Mississippi.
According to court documents, Minor’s column made references towhat he referred to as “Armistead’s odoriferous backgroundin Mississippi, ranging all the way from head-bashing of blackCivil Rights workers to concocting a bizarre homosexual scandalin an attempt to defeat a gubernatorial candidate.”
According to Armistead, this statement and others in the columnwere both false and malicious, and have caused irreparable harmto his reputation.
The first sigh of relief for the Mississippian came afterthe paper did some checking and realized that while it subscribesto Minor’s column regularly, it had not printed the specific columnin question.
“There was definitely an initial relief when we first realizedwe hadn’t published the column,” Thompson said. “Butthe big relief came when we got the letter from the attorney sayingthe suit [against their paper] had been dropped.”
The case against the Daily Mississippian was dismissedon May 18, however Armistead is still actively pursuing his suitagainst the other defendants.