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Eggelletion says he's contemplated suing the Broward Times for libel. But as a public figure, the commissioner knows that to prove libel, one must show that an article is not merely offensive or insulting but also harms a person's reputation; false information must also have been deliberately published.
According to county records, the Timeshas never been sued for libel.
Feeling powerless, the commissioner has simply stopped reading the Times. But he still fumes about names Clayborne has called him in print. "He's called me a "spook that sits by the door,'" Eggelletion says. "A spook is a derogatory term in the old South to describe blacks. He's called blacks "niggers' in his paper; he's called [blacks] "handkerchief heads.' If the Sentinel or the Miami Herald were to use those same terms, the black community would ask for a boycott and apologies."
Clayborne responds by asserting that his columns aren't personal but focus on the issues. Regarding the accusation that he doesn't attend meetings he reports about, Clayborne says, "I may not be at all the meetings, but I amthere. You see, I have ears there. I have people who tell me what goes on."
He says that the men were friends when Eggelletion ran for the commission. Eggelletion even visited the publisher's home to brainstorm campaign strategy, says Clayborne. But some time after the commissioner was elected, they had a falling-out. "I realized that Joe wasn't all about what he said he was about. He said he would do something to help blacks, and I can't tell you one thing he has done. You know, [Joe] will shake your hand and tell you how great you are and then tell people across the street how bad you are," Clayborne claims. "I had a campaign party for Joe, and someone came up to me and said Joe was talking about me. He said he didn't want people to think we were on the same side. I said, "Fine, I know you be talking out two sides of your mouth.'"
With a monologue that builds to Muhammad Ali-like bravado, he continues, "Joe hasn't done anything for blacks. I force him to, to come out when I write about him. That's my job, to force Joe out of the pocket. Black politicians don't want to be put on the line, and I tell 'em that they can put the people out but they can't count me out. I can create the synergy to put Joe out of office."
Eggelletion and other black politicians believe that Clayborne does not criticize white politicians. "He (Clayborne) knows that the white community won't allow that. Whites will lash out at his paper with a vengeance," charges state Rep. Chris Smith.
Smith consulted an attorney about suing the Broward Times when Clayborne reported in early 2001 that the Fort Lauderdale Democrat was running Walter "Mickey" Hinton's race against Carlton Moore for Fort Lauderdale City Commission. Hinton is Smith's uncle; Moore is Smith's longtime political mentor. "I met with both of them before the election and said that I was staying out of the race," says Smith. "So when the Times came out with that, I got a call from one of Carlton's supporters accusing me of lying."
Smith says he sent a letter to Clayborne demanding a correction. "I didn't hear back, so I called him. You know what he said to me? "So now you're saying you're not running Mickey's campaign?' He told me that he read it in the Sentinel," Smith says.
A December 2000 story in the Sun-Sentinel reported that Smith's mother, Helen, managed Hinton's campaign. The Times did not run a correction. "It did such damage to me," says Smith. "But people I consulted about legal action determined that it wasn't egregious enough."
Clayborne dismisses Smith's allegation and says Hinton told him Smith was working on the campaign. The publisher is confident that threats of lawsuits are typically political grandstanding. "If you look at the potential lawsuits in nine out of ten cases, ten out of ten cases, we didn't do whatever they said we did. We play it safe when we play with public figures. If you're the city manager, the city attorney, whatever, you're game to me. Look, this isn't really rocket science. I mean... if you're looking for money, you're not going to get much here. We're a small operation."
But Smith says he doesn't want money; he wants to make a statement. "You try to take some comfort in thinking that the Timeshas a limited audience, but I know a lot of people who read it as their primary news source," he says. "So it can't be brushed off. There has to be some responsibility for what's printed."
Like Eggelletion and Smith, County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman says she's not been interviewed by the Times yet has been subjected to Clayborne's criticisms. In a November 23 column, "Does County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman Think Black People Are Stupid?" Clayborne writes that she is a "snake who along with some of her cronies is two steps up or three steps down... from being a "political' street hooker." He also calls her one of many "Democratic Klan-clowns perpetrating the fraud of being elected officials."