WOODSTOCK – The Northwest Herald’s parent company is suing a local blogger for alleged defamatory comments he posted about the newspaper and its business.
The civil lawsuit challenges Cal Skinner Jr.’s June 3 post on his political blog alleging that the newspaper received a multimillion dollar-loan from McHenry County government at submarket rates to prevent it from moving outside the county. It also challenges a comment that the loan was made “to put the paper in the back pocket of the Republican Party.”
Northwest Herald Publisher John Rung said Skinner’s assertions were “reckless and completely fabricated.”
“We are saddened and disappointed – although perhaps not surprised – that he would publish such malicious falsehoods,” Rung said. “His motives here are clear: By lying about our integrity and financial health, he is attempting to injure our business. Because of the severity and irresponsibility of his accusations, we feel that it is necessary to ensure that the truth becomes part of the public record.”
When reached for comment Thursday, Skinner said he did not mean to defame the paper and “would certainly be willing to make any retraction the paper wishes me to make.”
“I cannot understand why the paper has taken such drastic measures when a phone call would have achieved the purpose,” Skinner said.
An attorney for B.F. Shaw Printing Company, Don Craven, said he would convey the offer to company leaders.
According to the lawsuit, the company has never received a loan from any public body and is not, nor has it ever been, “in the back pocket” or under the influence of the McHenry County Republican Party or any other political organization. The lawsuit also denies ever considering moving the Northwest Herald from McHenry County.
Skinner said he believed that the company received a county loan to build its current Crystal Lake headquarters. He said he filed a second Freedom of Information Act request recently after one that he filed a few years ago “did not receive satisfaction.” He said he did not remember what the response to the first request was.
Skinner said his comment about the paper being in “the back pocket of the Republican party” was meant in the past tense. The post stated: “The real reason [for the alleged loan] was to put the paper in the back pocket of the Republican Party. (Anyone want to deny the strategy worked?)”
“It is clearly not in the past tense,” Craven said. “But even if he had written it in the past tense, it is still defamatory, and it still offends.”
The lawsuit alleges that Skinner made the comments with a “reckless disregard for the truth” and out of ill will based on a series of articles the paper published about 10 years ago on his contentious divorce and child-custody proceedings involving his second wife. At the time of the divorce, Skinner was the state representative for southern McHenry County.
“That’s ancient history. I have no reason to be angry with The Northwest Herald, as many posts [show],” Skinner said, adding that he often links to Northwest Herald articles from his blog.
The lawsuit seeks at least $50,000 in each of three counts alleging defamation, false light and commercial disparagement. It was filed Thursday and is set for an Oct. 15 scheduling conference before Judge Maureen McIntyre.