Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning has filed a defamation lawsuit alleging the Kansas City Star published a column by Steve Rose that falsely attributes comments to him.
When confronted by Denning's staff, court documents show, Rose offered to quit his job if Denning would drop his inquiry. Rose said Monday evening he has resigned from the newspaper.
The column, which appeared online Friday and in print on Saturday, claims Denning "finally confessed to me his reasons" for fighting Medicaid expansion. Denning says the two haven't talked since 2016.
"The latest personal attack on me by Steve Rose and the KC Star is unethical and cannot stand," Denning said. "Mr. Rose even went so far as to offer his resignation if I kept quiet and looked the other way. Enough is enough."
The lawsuit names Cypress Media, Kansas City Star and Rose as defendants.
Rose took aim at Denning in the column for embracing "just plain ugly" reasons for opposing Medicaid expansion. He then attributes a series of "lame excuses" to Denning.
"I have been writing columns for almost 50 years, and I don’t make things up," Rose said in response to the lawsuit.
He declined to answer questions while seeking the advice of legal counsel.
Michael Kuckelman, an Overland Park attorney, filed the lawsuit on Denning's behalf. The case is a rare defamation claim against a news outlet involving a public figure.
"Media has wide berth of what they can say about an elected official — for good reason," Kuckelman said.
However, he said, there are limits to what media can report. News outlets have to be truthful.
"They attribute a lot of comments to Sen. Denning that he did not make," Kuckelman said. "In fact, Sen. Denning wasn't even interviewed for the article. And yet they attribute these comments to him, and he has received so much hate email and so forth as a result of these comments that he didn't make."
Attached to the lawsuit is a colorful example of the kind of email Denning received in response to the column.
"I will not address you with a title," one reader wrote. "You must earn that respect, and believe me when I say that you never well. Who the (expletive) made you the judge, jury and executioner for those who need medical care? Who the (expletive) do you think you are, (expletive). What you are is a pathetic, insecure, piece of (expletive), and that is probably an insult to dog (expletive)."
The lawsuit says Rose initially submitted the column for publication without attributing the comments to a particular individual. Then, the lawsuit says, an editor instructed Rose to identify a source. The lawsuit supposes Rose provided Denning's name under deadline pressure.
Denning said his staff reviewed public statements and found no support for the "conjured-up comments."
Attached to the lawsuit is an email string between Rose and the senator's chief of staff, who expressed concerns about the comments.
"I think Jim and you both are right," Rose wrote. "I would like to make this suggestion. Let it drop, and I will resign my column in the Star, effective today."
Denning is asking for a jury trial and an amount exceeding $75,000.