Nola.com/Times-Picayune Forced to Retract Libelous Statement in Tim Morris Column

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In a column published on nola.com on Aug. 31, columnist Tim Morris falsely attributed a statement about former mayor C. Ray Nagin to a letter written by New Orleans Tribune publisher and executive editor Beverly McKenna.

The correction, which now appears at the bottom of the column, reads:

“Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly reported that Beverly McKenna had referred to former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin as “one of the most brilliant and positive elected officials in the history of New Orleans.” That statement, in a letter to the court before Nagin’s sentencing, was made by Norbert Simmons, a businessman and friend of Nagin. The column has been updated.”

The column, which attempts to disparage the candidacy of Dr. Dwight McKenna for Orleans Parish Coroner and encourage New Orleanians to vote for Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, a man who has publicly announced that he no longer wants the job, nola.com’s Tim Morris used excerpts of a May 2014 letter written by Beverly McKenna to Judge Helen Berringer on behalf of former mayor C. Ray Nagin during the sentencing phase of Nagin’s trial.

In his column, Morris identified two phrases as excerpts from McKenna’s letter. In the first, he referenced McKenna’s characterization of the prosecution and subsequent conviction of Nagin as “yet another example of the peril that Black men—no matter how young or old, their levels of education or stations in life—find themselves in.”

That statement does indeed appear in McKenna’s letter.

“The message that Black men are under attack through America’s economic system, criminal justice system and education system has been shared more than once in the very pages of the newspaper of which I am publisher and executive editor,” McKenna says. “I meant it when I wrote it in my letter to Judge Berringer. I stand by it today. But to attribute words to me that I did not say is slipshod journalism at best and, at worst, a blatant and libelous disregard for the truth in a thoughtless attempt to besmirch my character and damage Dr. Dwight McKenna’s campaign for coroner.”

In a second reference to the letter, Morris falsely wrote that McKenna letter described Nagin as “one of the most brilliant and positive elected officials in the history of New Orleans.”

McKenna knew immediately after reading Morris’ column that she had never written those words and confirmed it when she retrieved the final draft of the letter from her own records.

Sometime later, nola.com corrected the column and noted that the statement in question actually appeared in a letter written by businessman Norbert Simmons on behalf of Nagin during the sentencing phase of the trial. No such phrase or any similar wording appeared in the letter from Beverly McKenna to the judge.