Dennis Kucinich Suing Plain Dealer / Cleveland.com Over Election Coverage

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The stare

Dennis Kucinich, Cleveland's boy mayor and multi-term congressman, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor once again in 2021, is suing Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer for what he claims was libelous and slanderous coverage of his campaign.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, Kucinich's lawyers contend that in both printed stories and on its daily news podcast, Today in Ohio, (formerly This Week in the CLE), The PD/cleveland.com erroneously reported that Kucinich had received financial backing from the FirstEnergy Corporation.

FirstEnergy was then, and remains, the center of the state's largest-ever racketeering scandal, House Bill 6. FirstEnergy is also the corporate successor of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company (CEI), Kucinich's arch-nemesis when he served as mayor in 1978-1979. The lawsuit claims that the flagship achievement of Kucinich's political career was his refusal to sell the Municipal Light system (Muny Light) to CEI, risking his career and reputation to do so.

The suit argues that the PD/cleveland.com, which made no secret of their distaste for Kucinich's candidacy, recklessly and maliciously printed lies that associated him with FirstEnergy to tarnish his reputation and undercut his past achievements, damaging personal and professional relationships in the process.

The suit notes that Kucinich informed the PD/cleveland.com of its errors and that the site published corrections shortly thereafter:

"For several hours Friday, the original version of this story incorrectly stated Dennis Kucinich is exploring a run for mayor with the financial backing of FirstEnergy Corp.," the correction read, and still reads. "Kucinich's campaign received no money from FirstEnergy."

Kucinich actually received money from local restaurateur Tony George, a longtime personal friend. George worked as a paid agent of FirstEnergy in Cleveland, for his company TPI Efficiency, and the PD/Cleveland.com drew a connection that Kucinich says never existed (i.e. that money from George was in fact money from FirstEnergy itself). 

“I have friends who may be close to FirstEnergy, but that is their cross to bear,” Kucinich told the PD/cleveland.com reporter John Caniglia in the above story. (Caniglia and reporter Seth Richardson were named defendants in the suit.) “This is not a nodding acquaintance. Tony George has been a friend of mine for 30 years. No one buys my friendship, and no one buys my opinion. And no one has ever bought my vote.”

Though Kucinich's explanation was printed in the paper and corrections were issued on the stories that linked him to FirstEnergy directly, Kucinich's suit references editorials and opinion pieces as well.

"Defendants published articles 'passionate[ly]' advocating to the public that
'[w]hatever you do, don’t vote for Dennis Kucinich.' They baselessly claimed that Plaintiff was 'remarkabl[y] ignorant of municipal finance' and [that he] engaged in 'constant violence-mongering.' Defendants also published a column with a headline that stated that the most 'narrow and clear path' to successfully stop Plaintiff 'from returning as Cleveland’s Mayor … require[d] targeting his reputation.'"

The author of that column, Brent Larkin, was offering strategic advice to Kucinich's opponents, namely Kevin Kelley, when Kucinich was in the lead in early polls. He suggested that defeating Kucinich in the primary could be accomplished by following the same ugly playbook Shontel Brown used in her race against Nina Turner. Attack, attack, attack.

"It’s easy to imagine what those attacks would say," Larkin wrote. "'Kucinich almost ruined the city when he was mayor the first time. Don’t let him finish the job.'" (Kelley and his aligned PAC, Citizens for Change, heeded Larkin's advice.)

The lawsuit argues that the plan to stop Kucinich from returning as mayor was the PD/cleveland.com's, and that the erroneous HB6 associations damaged his reputation because it portrayed him "exactly the opposite as his history and career has demonstrated." 

PD/cleveland.com editor Chris Quinn, in an emailed statement to Scene, said that the publication would respond to the suit, as in all cases of litigation, via pleadings. But he noted that they were transparent about their reporting errors at the time, a reference to the corrections above.

The suit was first reported by Cleveland Jewish News.

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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