(CN) – An Alabama teacher says in court the Birmingham News Company defamed him by falsely reporting that he taught geometric angles with a scenario about where one should stand to shoot President Barack Obama.
Gregory Harrison says Birmingham News quoted a student who was not even in his class and destroyed his reputation by disseminating false and defamatory information about him in the national media.
Birmingham News reporters Marie Leech, Carol Robinson and Joey Kennedy are also named as defendants to the lawsuit in Jefferson County Circuit Court.
Harrison says Corner High School in Dora, Ala., placed him on administrative leave after the Birmingham News article accused him of using the hypothetical assassination of Obama as a math example.
Birmingham’s Secret Service questioned Harrison, but found no “credible threat” and closed the investigation, according to the Associated Press.
Harrison says the defamatory article appeared in May 2010, a month after the geometry class in question.
“On or about May 18, 2010, Leech and Robinson published an article regarding Harrison on the front page of the Birmingham News, titled ‘Teacher uses killing of Obama as math example,'” the complaint states.
“The published article contained several falsities. The falsities include, but are not limited to:
“(a) A statement that Harrison gave a geometry lecture and used the assassination of President Barack Obama as a hypothetical to help teach tangent lines.
“(b) An erroneous description of what took place during the geometry class and describing Harrison’s conduct as ‘he used the example of where to stand and aim if shooting Obama.'”
Harrison says Birmingham News also posted the article online, where it was picked up “as written” by “USA Today”.
He says the piece contained offensive and incorrect information.
“Harrison never used the example of ‘assassinating President Barack Obama as a way to teach angles to his geometry class,'” according to the complaint. “Nor did Harrison ‘use the example of where to stand and aim if shooting Obama.’ These two portions of the published articles, which were stated as fact, were misleading, offensive, and factually incorrect.
“The Birmingham News, Leech, and Robinson also quoted Joseph Brown. Joseph Brown was described as ‘a senior in the geometry class.’ In fact, Joseph Brown was not in Harrison’s class and had no personal knowledge of the events that took place. Not only was the student not in attendance in Harrison’s class but the quote was false itself. Joseph Brown allegedly reported to defendant Leech, prior to publication, that he was not in the class but was merely repeating what he had heard as rumor. Defendant Leech, prior to publication, expressed disbelief as to many other things that Joseph Brown had told her during her interview with him; however, defendant Leech still elected to publish certain of Joseph Brown’s comments and attempted to bolster the believability of her article by falsely publishing that Brown was a student in Harrison’s class.”
Harrison says Birmingham News refused to correct the misleading information, and it repeated the statements in follow-up articles that called him the “geometry teacher who used Obama assassination to teach angles.”
He says CNN invited Leech to appear on “Prime News” on May 20, 2010, where the allegedly defamatory article was “showcased as a national news story, subjecting Harrison to widespread scrutiny.”
“As defendants continued to republish and embellish these defamatory statements, the story grew in the telling to the point where Joey Kennedy, in an online ‘blog’ endorsed by the Birmingham News, stated, ‘supposedly, Harrison repeated this lesson over several days,'” the complaint states. “This statement had absolutely no basis in fact whatsoever, and though published in a ‘blog’ that was supposedly the author’s opinion, made this false statement as a fact. The Birmingham News was directly responsible for this statement as well, as defendants’ earlier acts or omissions in failing to prudently research the events before publication, and to make a reasonable inquiry regarding the events before publication became magnified over time.”
Harrison claims the articles harmed his reputation, and subjected him and his family to ridicule and public scrutiny by allowing Internet blogs, video-posting websites and other publications to spread the defamatory information.
“As a result of defendants’ negligent, reckless, malicious, or intentional conduct, Harrison, who was previously a well liked and respected veteran teacher, suffered a catastrophic blow to his reputation, criticism, ridicule, and scorn from his local community, as well as nationwide and even worldwide media and communities,” according to the complaint.
Harrison seeks compensatory and punitive damages for libel and slander.
He is represented by Thomas Carmichael of Jasper, Ala.