Ebony magazine is facing a $5 million libel lawsuit over 2013 reports by Frederic Rosen about the death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson.
Johnson’s body was found in a rolled-up mat at his high school, Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Ga., in January 2013. His parents think he was murdered but the police ruled it an accident, CNN reported. Johnson’s family has filed lawsuits against the school principal, the superintendent and the local board of education as well as the school district. The FBI is investigating Johnson’s death.
The lawsuit was filed by the parents of two boys who went to school with Johnson. The parents’ lawsuit claims Ebony made a “completely untrue” suggestion that their sons “played a part in Johnson’s death and their father was involved in a conspiracy to cover it up,” CNN reported.
CNN didn’t name the boys or parents in its report on the lawsuit. It said in its report that “CNN is not naming the students mentioned in the lawsuit because none of them has been named a suspect in the death of Johnson.”
On the other hand, a local Georgia news outlet, the Valdosta Daily Times, did name the parents and identified the father as an FBI agent, which would make the accusations that the boys and father covered up Johnson’s death appear more serious and more plausible. According to the Daily Times, the boys were given fake names in an article that appeared in the Nov. 19, 2013 edition of Ebony, but other students identified them and “ostracized” the boys.
The Valdosta Daily Times is published six days a week.
The boys’ mother told the Daily Times earlier this year about the case that “If you dare to stand up for what is truthful, you become a target for bullying and harassment.”
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The boys’ parents say that neither of their sons were near the gym where Johnson was found. Further, the parents “claim Johnson Publishing and Rosen made no effort to verify the brothers’ presence elsewhere or lack of involvement in the Johnson death case before publishing the articles on Ebony.com,” according to the Daily Times.
All of Rosen’s articles have been unpublished, CNN and the Valdosta Daily Times reported.
iMediaEthics reached out to Rosen via Twitter for comment. We’ve also reached out to Ebony‘s editor-in-chief Mitzi Miller and the lawyer for the parents for comment.
UPDATE: 9/1/2014 2:42 PM EST The lawyer for the parents, Brice Ladson, told iMediaEthics said he can’t comment “outside of the record of the lawsuit.”
“This lawsuit is detailed and includes our demand letters. We look forward to clearing our clients’ names and recovering damages appropriate to the harm from a fair and impartial jury.”
Editor’s Note/Clarification: We added the word “appear” after receiving a complaint that this sentence below from the story above was unclear.
“On the other hand, a local Georgia news outlet, the Valdosta Daily Times, did name the parents and identified the father as an FBI agent, which would make the accusations that the boys and father covered up Johnson’s death appear more serious and more plausible.”