Chamber lobbyist sues The Sun News for libel

Photo by TheDigitel Myrtle Beach

Just yesterday we mentioned how the politics and controversy surrounding the tourism development tax has polarized the community. Today The Sun News reports that Mark Kelley, a former SC representative and lobbyist for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber, is suing The Sun News for their investigative reporting, which Kelley believes has damaged his reputation.

The Sun News has a few more details here. We've covered the confrontation between The Sun News and the Chamber of Commerce in the past. There's been connections made between the tourism development fee and a series of question campaign donations made by people associated with the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. Many of the connections were highlighted by several investigative reports by journalist David Wren, who is also named in the lawsuit.  As a result, the relationship between the Chamber and The Sun News has been strained. The most notable examples were the Chamber's unusual response to a FOIA request and a few months later their public meeting refuting The Sun News coverage.

We are interested to see how this shakes out. Kelley's history as a politician makes his case more difficult. According to

Under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, as set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1964 Case, New York Times v Sullivan, where a public figure attempts to bring an action for defamation, the public figure must prove an additional element: That the statement was made with "actual malice". In translation, that means that the person making the statement knew the statement to be false, or issued the statement with reckless disregard as to its truth. 

The Sun News is not the only media outlet that has covered Mark Kelley's political involvement. A 2010 posting from FITSNews refers to a Myrtle Beach Herald story that specifically mentions Kelley as involved with a questionable political contribution. That FITS coverage is here but the original Herald story seems to have been lost in their website transition. A search on FTISNews reveals several less than favorable mentions of Kelley. Neither nor Waccamaw Publishers have been named in the lawsuit by Kelley. 

Kelley is a Principal Partner in a government relations firm Kelley, McCain, & Smith Owens.

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