Mississippi Today CEO issues apology
The CEO of a Ridgeland-based non-profit issued an apology to former Gov. Phil Bryant last Wednesday, a week after he threatened a defamation lawsuit in connection with comments an executive and two reporters have made about him in the wake of a $77 million welfare scandal they reported.
Mississippi Today, the non-profit, was asked to retract false statements CEO Mary Margaret White made at a forum and that the reporters made on a podcast.
“I misspoke at a recent media conference regarding the accusations against former Governor Phil Bryant in the $77 million welfare scandal,” White’s apology posted on Mississippi Today reads. “He has not been charged with any crime. My remark was inappropriate, and I sincerely apologize.”
“Mississippi Today has published at least 29 times over the course of its coverage of the welfare scandal, including multiple times in ‘The Backchannel’ investigative series, that Gov. Bryant has not been charged with any crime,” she continued. “My mistake was unintentional and an inaccurate representation of the facts. This statement will be shared across Mississippi Today’s platforms, including our website, social media, newsletter, mobile app and text service. I have requested that the video of my remark be retracted with this apology.”
Bryant’s demand letter was the first step in a defamation lawsuit required under Mississippi state law.
“Former Gov. Bryant’s legal team is reviewing and no decision has been made on next steps,” Denton Gibbes, a spokesperson for Bryant said on Wednesday.
In Bryant’s seven-page formal demand letter, he also asked for public apologies from Editor Adam Ganucheau and Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter Anna Wolfe for remarks they made on a podcast where the former governor claims they were “gaslighting” the public.
White, while appearing at a Knight Foundation journalism forum in February 2023, said Mississippi Today’s reporting uncovered the welfare scheme that has since made national headlines, claiming Bryant “embezzled” state monies.
“We’re the newsroom that broke the story about $77 million in welfare funds intended for the poorest people in the poorest state in the nation,” White said during the forum. “Being embezzled by a former governor and his bureaucratic ponies to be used on pet projects like a state-of-the-art volleyball stadium at Brett Favre’s alma mater.”
Mississippi Today was one of the first news outlets to report on the scandal after State Auditor Shad White and Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens held a press conference last fall announcing indictments following an 8-month investigation, wrongdoing Bryant has said he helped expose.
Bryant’s demand notice calls on Mississippi Today to “publish full-and-fair corrections of White’s false and defamatory statement and the subsequent comments” made by Ganucheau and Wolfe on an episode of the outlet’s podcast this week.
The letter goes on to say the public comments made by the three about Bryant were “demonstrably false.”
“Neither White nor Mississippi Today has any evidence suggesting, tending to suggest, proving, or tending to prove that Bryant converted or embezzled welfare funds,” the letter reads. “Former Governor Bryant did not embezzle welfare funds. White said otherwise.”
The letter concludes, “White’s statement at the February 2023 Knight Foundation media forum crossed the line separating innuendo and speculation from outright falsehood. The subsequent statements made by Ganucheau and Wolfe are demonstrably false and are calculated to gaslight and deceive the public. Former Governor Bryant demands an immediate public correction of all false and misleading statements made by Mississippi Today personnel, a public apology for having made these false and misleading statements, and an absolute and total retraction of the statements.”