HuffPost Sued for Defamation in Kavanaugh Article

'Defendants knew the quoted statement . . . was false when it was published'

Justice Brett Kavanaugh / Getty Images

A Mississippi man is suing HuffPost and its former reporter Ashley Feinberg for claiming that he was responsible for the death of Robert F. Kennedy's son David in a story on then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

At the height of the controversy over a series of sexual assault allegations made against Kavanaugh, the liberal outlet published a piece headlined "Former Student: Brett Kavanaugh's Prep School Party Scene Was A ‘Free-For-All.'"

The anonymous former student who served as Feinberg's source cited the 1984 overdose death of David Kennedy as the catalyst for change at Georgetown Prep. Feinberg, now at Slate, wrote that "two students David's brother Doug, and his friend Derrick Evans had helped score the coke."

Evans, an African-American professor and community activist who attended Georgetown Prep on a full scholarship, filed a defamation lawsuit Wednesday claiming HuffPost made no effort to contact him before accusing him of a crime that led to a man's death. The complaint chalks the inaccuracies in the piece up to a "zeal to create a sensational article about Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s years at [Georgetown Prep] and thereby drive traffic to its website."

"Indeed, if Ms. Feinberg or her HuffPost editors had done even the most basic research of publicly available sources, she and they would have known, if they did not already know, that Mr. Evans actively assisted law enforcement in identifying and prosecuting the individuals who actually sold the illegal narcotics," the lawsuit reads.

Doug Kennedy's employer Fox News did contact HuffPost to complain, which led to the following correction: "This article previously stated incorrectly that Doug Kennedy was involved in helping his brother to purchase drugs in 1984. Kennedy was only sharing a room with Derrick Evans, who helped David purchase the drugs, according to an affidavit obtained by the New York Times. We regret the error."

But Evans alleges in the lawsuit that the correction was also defamatory. The New York Times reported two other men were arrested for selling Kennedy the drugs, Evans was merely "present," and his testimony led to their arrests.

"The September 21 correction was another complete fabrication published by HuffPost with actual knowledge that both it and the original publication were false or in reckless disregard of the truth, again without ever attempting to contact Mr. Evans for comment," the lawsuit reads. "As HuffPost knew, there was NO affidavit reflecting that Mr. Evans ever helped anyone purchase illegal drugs. Defendants had no such affidavit in their possession, and they could not have had such an affidavit in their possession."

The HuffPost article in question has since been scrubbed of any reference to the Kennedy brothers or Evans. "This article previously mischaracterized the involvement of individuals in a drug purchase. References to those individuals and the incident have been removed," a correction reads. "We regret the error. Additionally, certain references by the former student to specific individuals have been removed to better reflect the intended purpose of the article: to provide a former student’s general characterizations of the party culture."