NEBRASKA — Former university regent Robert Prokop has sued thestudent newspaper of the University of Nebraska — Lincoln for $700,000,claiming that an editorial libeled him and caused him to lose his bid to rejointhe board in the 2006 election.
The Daily Nebraskan published an editorial titled “Regentsmust be held to high standards” in October 2006 that said Prokop hadplagiarized portions of a column he submitted to the newspaper when he was aregent in the early 1970s. The editorial board later chose not to endorseProkop for the 2006 Board of Regents election, citing concerns over the allegedplagiarism incident. The board oversees the entire University of Nebraska systemand its voting members are elected by citizens in eight districts across thestate.
In his complaint filed with the District Court of Lancaster County on Oct.18, Prokop alleged the editorial contained “false, scandelous [sic],illegal, defamatory, and malicious statements about the plaintiff’scapacity as a public official” and caused him to “not be elected tothe Board of Regents.”
Dan Shattil, the newspaper’s general manager, said he believes thecase will be dismissed.
“I don’t think there’s much there,” he said.”He’s going to have a hard time proving the original libel, muchless that we … knew it was false.”
Assuming a court agrees that Prokop was a public figure when he claimed hewas libeled, he would not only have to show that the statements in question werefalse, but also that the newspaper knew the statements were false when it choseto print them or acted with reckless disregard for whether the statements weretrue.
The allegations of plagiarism emanate from a decades-old controversysurrounding the newspaper’s refusal to print a column submitted by Prokopin the early 1970s because of concerns about his research. Editors at the timedefended their decision by running an article that showed similarities betweenthe column and excerpts from the book “Homosexuality: Disease or Way ofLife.”
“If can I show the original article showing the line-by-linecomparisons of the two, it’s going to be hard to refute that,”Shattil said.
Jenna Johnson, who was editor in chief when the 2006 editorial waspublished, said the board chose to publicize the incident because Prokop had notheld office since 1983.
“He was running for a public office, a public office that he had held previously,” she said, “and anything that had happened in the public office, especially controversies, are important to know, especially since the last time he held this office, a lot of the students that were on the campus weren’t born.”
When reached by the Student Press Law Center on Thursday, Prokop said hecould not comment on the case.
Prokop also has filed suit against regent Jim McClurg, who beat Prokop in2006 for a spot on the Board of Regents. Prokop alleged that McClurg libeled himin comments he made in an Omaha World-Herald article in October2006.