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Newspaper War in Tennessee

GALLATIN, Tenn. (CN) - In a complaint reminiscent of Mark Twain's story, "Journalism in Tennessee," the editor of a Gallatin newspaper claims the owner of a rival paper took out a warrant for his arrest on bogus charges after The News Examiner printed a true story about The Gallatin Newspaper's business plans.

The Gallatin Newspaper then defamed the News Examiner's editor in a column that accused him of "unethical conduct," according to the complaint.

Plaintiff Tom Brooker, editor and publisher of The News Examiner, claims that he got a tip that defendant John Cook was selling The Gallatin Newspaper and The Macon County Chronicle to co-defendant Mainstreet Media.

So, Brooker says, he had a reporter follow up on the tip. The date was Sept. 18, 2007.

Brooker claims that "Cook has a well documented and long standing animus toward plaintiff," and the business story set things aboil.

"The News Examiner had a business relationship by which it printed Cook's newspapers and plaintiff informed the reporter that if the rumor was true that it should be announced in the Macon County Chronicle, which was being printed that day and scheduled for release for distribution at approximately 1 p.m.," Brooker says in the complaint in Sumner County Court.

Brooker says that because of "the confidential business relationship" between the rival newspapers, he did not let his reporter read the story in the Macon County Chronicle "until it was released to the public at 3 p.m."

The story of the sale was printed on that day's County Chronicle front page, and Brooker says he proceeded to write a story about the sale.

When his reporter asked Cook to comment on the sale, "Cook threatened to sue the reporter and said that if a comment was desired he would give one only to the plaintiff and said, 'Have Brooker call me,'" according to the complaint.

The complaint continues: "The plaintiff then called Cook and Cook informed him that he had no right to print the story. Cook claimed that printing the story was a breach of the confidential business relationship and when the plaintiff explained that the story was already in the general circulation, on the front page of The Macon County Chronicle, Cook began to curse him.

"Based upon Cook's outburst, a verbal argument ensued between the plaintiff and Cook.

"On Sept. 19, 2007, the plaintiff received a telephone call from the Sumner County Sheriff's Department informing him of a warrant that had been taken out against him and that he needed to come immediately to the Warrants Desk.

"Cook had taken out a warrant alleging the plaintiff had harassed him and had threatened Cook with physical assault, and charged him with a Class 'B' misdemeanor. Plaintiff reported to the Sheriff's Department as told, said he was not guilty, had a court date set and was fingerprinted, photographed, booked and released."

On Sept. 20, Brooker says, The Gallatin Newspaper printed the story of his arrest, with his mug shot, and a column from co-defendant Julie Brackenbury, "alleging that plaintiff had engaged in unethical conduct in the manner in which the story regarding the sale of Cook's newspapers was obtained."

Brooker claims that Cook also contacted Gannett Corp., the chain that owns The News Examiner, "an informed them of his allegations regarding harassment and unethical violation of the confidential business relationship in an effort to put the plaintiff's job in jeopardy, cause him embarrassment and emotional distress."

In a peculiar climax, Brooker says, when he showed up on court on Oct. 15, 2007, Cook appeared too, but when he was told that the matter was ready for trial, Cook "left the courtroom." The judge had Cook paged, and when he didn't respond for 57 minutes after the 9 a.m. trial time, the judge dismissed the warrant, Brooker says.

But the saga continued: "On Oct, 18, 2007, The Gallatin Newspaper reported the dismissal of the criminal charges against the plaintiff, again repeating the false allegations asserted by Cook and erroneously reported that the charges had been dismissed against plaintiff because Cook had contacted the District Attorney's Office and left a message on the voice mail of one of the Assistant District Attorneys," the complaint states.

"None of the stories reported in The Gallatin Newspaper were published in good faith as their falsity was not due to an honest mistake of fact, and there was no reasonable grounds to believe that the facts, as alleged in the stories, were based upon fact. The defendants never printed the other side nor attempted to get a comment from the plaintiff regarding the allegations in the story.

"Cook has a well documented and long standing animus toward the plaintiff which, in view of the total lack of meeting journalistic standards in the defendants' stories, fueled the defendants' published stories and resulted in the defendants publishing allegations which were wholly false and were not published in good faith."

Brooker says he demanded a retraction from Mainstreet Media, but it refused, or at least did not retract it "as defined by T.C.A. § 29-24-103, and its follow-up stories only served to reiterate the false allegations about the plaintiff and cast him in a negative and unprofessional light."

Brooker seeks punitive damages for false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of process and defamation.

He is represented by Randy Lucas.

In "Journalism in Tennessee," Mark Twain claims that he edited a Tennessee newspaper for one day, during which a string of local businessmen took pot shots at him - and even made appointments to do it.

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