Bryant files defamation lawsuit against Mississippi Today

Bryant files defamation lawsuit against Mississippi Today


Former Gov. Phil Bryant filed a defamation lawsuit in Madison County Circuit Court last Thursday against the Ridgeland-based nonprofit news organization Mississippi Today and Publisher Mary Margaret White in connection with comments made about him in the wake of an alleged $77 million welfare scandal they reported. 

Bryant’s filing came two months after he served a formal notice seeking a retraction for statements White made at a media forum and for comments that reporters made on a podcast. Last week, Bryant sent over a second letter seeking additional retractions for additional statements made by Mississippi Today, which the organization declined. 

Bryant is seeking a jury trial for compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and associated costs from Deep South Today, the parent company of Mississippi Today. 

In the lawsuit, Bryant claims that White did not apologize for comments made at a Knight Foundation journalism forum in February 2023, where she told a crowd of journalists that Mississippi Today was the outlet that uncovered the welfare scandal, 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.”

After being served with a letter seeking retraction, White issued what Bryant called a non-apology. 

“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 said. “He has not been charged with any crime. My remark was inappropriate, and I sincerely apologize.”

According to the lawsuit, “White did not apologize for accusing Bryant of embezzling $77 million of welfare funds and did not retract and correct her false and slanderous remark. Instead, she issued a statement noting Bryant had not been charged with a crime. White’s accusation and subsequent statement convey that Bryant embezzled $77 million of welfare funds, but criminal authorities have failed to prosecute him.”

Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Anna Wolfe and Editor Adam Ganucheau did not issue an apology for statements they made on a Mississippi Today podcast that Bryant claims continued to push the misinformation. 

“Bryant brings this action to prove that Mississippi Today and White defamed him as part of a malicious and concerted effort to damage his reputation and business interests with a steady stream of lies, baseless speculation, and irresponsible innuendo,” the lawsuit reads. 

Bryant has also subpoenaed documents and communication with Wolfe and a number of former state government officials relating to her work covering the welfare scandal, including Brad Pigott, the former attorney investigating the civil case for the state, and  Jacob Black, former deputy director at MDHS. 

The case was assigned to Circuit Judge M. Bradley Mills. 

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions