When Donald Trump entered the political arena, what remained of mainstream media and liberal outlets’ journalistic integrity crumbled. The most recent example came last week when a Georgetown Prep contemporary of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sued the Huffington Post and journalist Ashley Feinberg for defamation in a Mississippi federal court.
Derrick Evans sued the Huffington Post and Feinberg for a story they ran days after Christine Blasey Ford went public with her now-debunked claim that, while in high school, Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her.
In her September 20, 2018, article entitled, “Former Student: Brett Kavanaugh’s Prep School Party Scene Was a ‘Free-For-All,’” Feinberg (now at Slate), claimed an anonymous former Georgetown Preparatory School student had identified the overdose death of David Kennedy—the son of the late senator Robert Kennedy—as the “catalyst for changes in Georgetown Prep culture” and in the marking of “the end of the school’s free-for-all party scene” that dominated in the 1980s when Kavanaugh and Evans both attended the Bethesda, Maryland high school.
In her article, Feinberg specified that “two students – David’s brother Doug, and his friend Derrick Evans – had helped score the coke” that killed David. Not only was this statement false, as Evans explained, he had “actively assisted law enforcement in identifying and prosecuting the individuals who actually sold the illegal narcotics to David Kennedy.”
Yet, as Evans’s lawsuit details, the Huffington Post stuck with the story even after “an officer of Fox News, where Douglas Kennedy works as a reporter,” informed the online outlet “in no uncertain terms that its article was false and defamatory, and had obviously been published without any fact-checking whatsoever.” The Fox News officer, according to Evans’s complaint, told Huffington Post the article “was so deficient it should be removed in its entirety from HuffPost’s website.”
Instead, the left-leaning outlet posted this supposed “correction,” on September 21, 2018, that further defamed Evans: “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.”
Doug Kennedy responded to the Huffington Post’s purported correction by hiring a lawyer who chastised the liberal publisher for “plac[ing] into the public sphere an outrageously false claim that Mr. Kennedy supplied the illegal narcotics that killed his older brother David, and then followed your shameful lie with an insincere, incorrect ‘apology’ that placed blame on Mr. Kennedy’s friend [Mr. Evans].”
At that point, the Huffington Post further updated its article by, on September 24, 2018, removing all references to Evans and the Kennedy family, and issuing a “correction” that stated: “This article previously mischaracterized the involvement of individuals in a drug purchase. References to those individuals and the incident have been removed. We regret the error.”
But, as Evans noted in his complaint, they liberal publisher had not “’mischaracterize[d] the involvement of individuals in a drug purchase’ because neither Douglas Kennedy nor Derrick Evans had been involved in a drug purchase.”
These facts are bad enough, but Evans’s lawsuit exposes three further damning realities emblematic of “journalism” in the age of Trump. First, the Huffington Post and Feinberg’s abandonment of even the most basic of journalist standards was near absolute.
As Evan’s complaint explained, while Feinberg relied on an unnamed former student to source details about the “party” atmosphere at Georgetown Prep, the “journalist” “in fact had no source informing her that Mr. Evans purchased drugs for Mr. Kennedy or anyone else.” Likewise, there was no “affidavit” stating that Evans had “helped David purchase the drugs,” as the first “correction” claimed. Rather, what there was—at best—was unverified gossip from a former student on his recollection of what went down some 30 years ago.
Feinberg and the Huffington Post also did not attempt to contact either Evans or Douglas Kennedy for comment before running the original article. (Feinberg has not returned my request for a comment and the Huffington Post has stated it does not comment on pending litigation).
Most shocking, as Evans explained in his complaint, “Had Ms. Feinberg or her editors at HuffPost undertaken even the most basic internet search of publicly available articles concerning the investigation into David Kennedy’s death, they would have learned, 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 to David Kennedy.”
Evans’s lawsuit also exposes a second sad reality surrounding the MSM and left-leaning outlets’ coverage of news in the Trump era—that the narrative is king. Again, Evans’s complaint crystalized this truth, with his attorney recognizing that “the fabricated statement that two Georgetown Prep students ‘helped score the coke’ that resulted in the death of David Kennedy, who had not attended Georgetown Prep, lent the ‘Kennedy’ name to the article and supported Defendants’ narrative that during the time Brett Kavanaugh was a student at Georgetown Prep the school had a drug-and-alcohol-fueled culture.”
This narrative served two purposes, both illegitimate: One, to thwart Kavanaugh’s confirmation by painting his alma mater, Georgetown Prep, as a party school for the privileged, and implicitly appearing to confirm Blasey Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh had attempted to rape her while intoxicated in high school; two, by using the Kennedy name and “tags,” the Huffington Post sought to spur hits and make the story go viral.
The third take-away from Evans’s lawsuit is as simple as it is sad: No one is safe from the liberal media’s attacks on conservatism, whether it be MAGA-hat-wearing teenagers, or the well-respected, private Evans.
Evans is “a teacher and civil rights and environmental justice advocate from Mississippi” whose only crime is having attended the hoity-toity Georgetown Prep. While that might be enough of an offense for the left, they might be interested in knowing that Evans, a descendent of Mississippi slaves, attended the private school on full academic scholarship and was one of the only African-American students at the time.
Given how little research and confirmation Feinberg did, it’s unlikely she knew those facts—but if she did, wow: Let’s blame the black boy for buying the cocaine that killed a Camelot heir!
Evans’s attorney, John Sneed of the Jackson Mississippi firm of Wise Carter Child and Caraway, P.A., told The Federalist, “Unfortunately, Mr. Evans was part of the collateral damage resulting from HuffPost’s inexplicable decision to try to link a 35-year-old Kennedy family tragedy to its over-hyped coverage of the Kavanaugh nomination.” Sneed is right. Evans was merely the innocent whose reputation must perish to push the left’s political agenda.
But at least now Evans has a chance of obtaining some justice from the Huffington Post and Feinberg, as he has a solid case of defamation. The same cannot be said of Kavanaugh, who remains a target even today.