Will Folks is facing court action for not revealing sources in a defamation suit brought by a former state politician. Folks’ history could mean trouble for him.
Former South Carolina State Representative Kenny Bingham’s (R-Cayce) two-year old defamation lawsuit against Irmo blogger Will Folks has taken an additional path.
The original (and continuing) suit claims Folks, via his website FITSNews, willfully and repeatedly published “false and defamatory” statements about Rep. Bingham and knew they were false upon publication.
The statements Folks published quoted “sources” that Bingham, then Chairman of the South Carolina House of Representatives Ethics Committee and frontrunner to become Speaker, was the subject of an ethics complaint. The suit contends Folks knew there was no such complaint but continued to publish stories to the contrary.
Further, according to the suit, some of the FITSNews posts “falsely accuses Mr. Bingham of a crime and being unfit in his business” and “falsely [implies] that the plaintiff engaged in unethical conduct.”
Bingham has now challenged Folks to provide the names of his sources since they, too, could possibly be sued for defamation. Folks has refused citing journalistic confidentiality and protection of sources. There are several nuances to this part of the procedure including the viability of a blogger as a journalist, civil vs criminal procedures and the applicability South Carolina’s “shield law.”
In court testimony, Folks said he has not received permission from his “sources” to reveal their names. Curiously, he did not say they refused or if he even directly asked “them” for such permission. He simply said he did not have their permission.
While Bingham has a legitimate reason to know who spread rumors about him for legal purposes, there is the additional and even more important purpose to find out if there really ARE sources or if Folks just made the story up.
I believe the latter. And here is why.
In 2010 I was posting commentary on a blog called The Garnet Spy. Initially, Will Folks was generous in his support for the site and was instrumental in its success. Will and I were friends, even breaking (excellent) bread at Andy’s Deli in Five Points to discuss South Carolina politics. Things soured, however, during the 2010 gubernatorial election.
I was an early supporter of then Rep. Nikki Haley, but Will was not. That alone is no reason to disrupt a friendship, but it was the vitriol with which Folks demonstrated his opposition. By this time, I was hearing negative things about Will from all over the state (even though, at the time, I was living in Maryland, I developed an extensive network of South Carolina sources and contacts both in government and out). The hammer came when Folks published his infamous claims of an “inappropriate physical relationship” with Haley.
The claim was dubious on its face and he was called out on it by local and national media alike. Given the timing of the allegation, just before the Republican primary, it was apparent that it was a contrived bombshell to damage the future governor’s chances.
Closer scrutiny of Folks’ writings and conversations with people on the ground in South Carolina led me (and others) to believe that he just made stuff up to advance his readership, get more hits on his website and, thus, make more money. I decided to test this idea.
I sent Will an anonymous email telling him that Charlie Speight was the point man for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in South Carolina as he prepped to run in the state’s 2012 Republican presidential primary.
He took the bait.
On April 16, 2011, Folks published an article on FITSNews claiming “A Maryland-based blogger who has been serving as the leading apologist for S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley could be working under the table to promote the presidential aspirations of another, faster rising GOP star.”
Alleging – and even quoting – “beltway sources,” Folks weaved a tale that was completely phony. He even claimed “intelligence sources!”
“He’s what he says he is – a spy,” one of our intelligence sources in Fairfax, Virginia tells us. “If he doesn’t want you to find out who’s paying him, you’re not going to find out.”
And I played him. He called me, asking for information. I gave him the “no comment” and even teased that “I’ve got irons in several fires.”
After his post was published, I sent another anonymous email telling him that it was all a hoax perpetrated by a collection of office mates in Charleston. The email said the group had a bet on which of the dueling bloggers would fall for a fake lead. FITSNews failed the test.
The point of all this is that Will Folks lied about having “sources” for this story. I don’t know anyone in Fairfax, Virginia and I’ve never met Chris Christie or anyone who has worked for him in any capacity. Folks published a story based on nothing more than an anonymous email and his political distaste for a particular candidate.
The reason for pranking Will Folks was his reputation for lying and making up sources. That reputation was not created by me, but, it certainly appears that I helped add some validity to it.
This relates to the Bingham suit because Folks made accusations about Bingham, a politician Folks did/does not like, by claiming information received from “sources.”
Is this truly a case of protecting journalist sources or is there something else? Were the sources anonymous? Were they even real? Did Folks conduct due diligence in confirming the claims?
Is Folks refusing to name his “sources” because there are none? If he were to admit as much, Bingham wins and rumors about Folks would then be confirmed by the man himself.