Not news: a politician blames the media for his epic downfall and convincing defeat. News: the politician takes the media to court and asks for $500 million in damages.
That’s the man-bites-dog story playing out in Florida today, where Jeff Greene — the billionaire investor who just got crushed by Kendrick Meek in the Democratic primary for Senate — is filing suit against two state papers for, he says, tanking the Senate campaign he spent tens of millions from his personal fortune on.
The New York Times reports that Greene is filing a libel suit against the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald, claiming that the papers’ coverage of his infamous yacht and his even more infamous path to super-wealth were false and so damaging as to cost him the Democratic nomination.
As the Times reports, Greene’s suit “is a rare step for a political figure.” Many losing candidates come to hate the media, but few go so far as to take it to court.
Here’s Greene’s case in a nutshell, from the Times:
At issue are two news articles written by St. Petersburg Times reporters that were printed in both The Times and The Herald, and a Times editorial urging a federal investigation into Mr. Greene’s business activities.
In one article, The Times reported that Mr. Greene was party to a real estate deal that left 300 California families homeless and a partner of his in jail. The other left the impression that the boxer Mike Tyson, who was the best man at Mr. Greene’s wedding, used drugs while on Mr. Greene’s yacht. The paper later ran a front-page correction clarifying that Mr. Tyson said he had not used drugs on the yacht.
Greene says the coverage was wrong — and that it helped lead to his disastrous collapse in the primary fight. Despite spending millions on negative TV ads and fancy, big-name advisers, Greene saw his initial lead in the primary with Meek disappear under press scrutiny and Meek’s own negative advertisements.
In the end, Meek defeated Greene 57-31.
The same can’t be said of the media, who Green first threatened to sue as the tide began to turn for him in Florida. Back on August 13 — eleven days before the primary — Greene promised he’d sue the press. Sounded like a campaign tactic at the time, but now it seems Greene was serious. He’s retained the same lawyer that sued the media on behalf of the exonerated Atlanta Olympic Park bombing suspect Richard Jewell and told the paper “he will seek at least $500 million in damages in part, he said, to teach the news media a lesson.”
“I want to send a message to every newspaper in the country: Do your homework,” Greene told the Times. “I deserve to have the record corrected, and they deserve to be punished.”
The Florida press stands by its reporting. “The [St. Petersburg] Times’ coverage of Mr. Greene and his business transactions has been thorough and fair, and the reporting is well-documented in public records,” editor Neil Brown told the New York paper. So far the Miami Herald has not offered any public comments on the suit.
Greene did not immediately respond to my request for comment.