Anthony Schoettle for www.theindianalwer.com
Retired race car driver and former motorsports broadcaster Derek Daly on Thursday filed a defamation lawsuit in Hamilton County seeking at least $25 million from his former employer, WISH-TV Channel 8, and its parent company, Irving, Texas-based Nexstar Media Group Inc.
The lawsuit claims WISH made false statements about Daly on Aug. 22 and Aug. 23 in online and broadcast stories related to racially charged comments former Indianapolis Colts announcer Bob Lamey allegedly made off the air.
And after Daly’s attorney notified WISH’s general manager and news director of the inaccuracies of the story, the lawsuit states, the station “failed and refused to publish a full and fair retraction of the false statements.”
In addition to punitive damages, Daly, 65, told IBJ he is seeking a correction and a public apology from WISH and Nexstar officials. WISH fired Daly, then its motorsports analyst, in the wake of the Lamey incident.
“They slandered my reputation and humiliated me and my family with false information,” Daly said.
WISH, in its news story, reported that more than three decades ago, when Daley was an open-wheel race car driver, he used a racial slur in an interview with radio personality Lamey.
Daly told IBJ this week that he has never been interviewed by Lamey and was not the source of the racial slur to which Lamey referred.
Lamey “mixed up where he thought he heard it from,” Daly said. “He mistakenly attributed the story to me, and WISH was informed by me four hours before their broadcast that Lamey’s story was not mine.”
In its story last August, WISH claimed Daly confirmed he was the source of Lamey’s story. Daly said that’s false.
“How could I confirm an interview that never happened?” Daly said. “I was never even asked by WISH if I was the source of Lamey’s story.”
A WISH spokesman told IBJ the station does not comment on personnel matters. When asked in an email whether WISH stands behind its story, the spokesman did not respond.
A Nexstar spokeswoman has not replied to IBJ’s request for comment.
Daly’s lawyer, longtime Hamilton County attorney Tim Stoesz, said the three-page lawsuit could be amended to add more defendants, but he did not elaborate.
When asked about the amount requested in the lawsuit, Daly responded: “My attorney took into account the colossal damage done to me and my family.”
Daly told IBJ he has had about 30 speaking engagements annually — which accounts for the majority of his income. Since August, he said he’s had one speaking engagement and numerous cancellations.
“Derek has already lost income as a result of this false story,” Stoesz said.
In addition, Lilly Diabetes pulled its sponsorship of a car driven by Daly’s son, Conor Daly, before a NASCAR Xfinity race last year, citing the elder Daly’s alleged comments.
“We are seeking $25 million in punitive damages, and I’m not sure that is enough to compensate Derek and deter WISH, Nexstar and other media outlets from making the same grave mistakes that have been made by the media repeatedly,” Stoesz added.
For a story published by IBJ on Aug. 23, Daly admitted he had used the N word in an interview in the early 1980s — shortly after coming to the U.S. from Ireland.
“In the early 80’s, after I had recently relocated to the United States, I was interviewed by radio reporter Larry Henry and I was asked about my situation with my new American team,” Daly said in an email to IBJ last August.
“I responded by explaining that I was a foreign driver now in America, driving for an American team, with an American crew, and with an American sponsor — and that if things did not go well, the only ‘n***** in the wood pile’ would be me.”
Daly explained last August: “At the time, I meant that I, as the new foreigner on the team, would shoulder the blame and I would be the scapegoat. This was not in any way shape or form meant to be a racial slur. This phrase was commonly used in Ireland, Britain, and Australia. When I used that phrase in the early 80’s, I had no idea that in this country that phrase had a horribly different meaning and connotation, as it was commonplace in Ireland.”
Daly, who worked for WISH for 30 years, said it wasn’t long before he found out about his mistake in the early 1980s.
“After moving to the United States, I quickly learned what a derogatory term it was,” he told IBJ last August. “When I was first informed of this, I was mortified at the offense I might have caused people. I have therefore never used the word since. I made this mistake once, but never again.”
Lamey’s version of the story referred to drivers holding back their speed.
WTHR-TV Channel 13 reported last August that an employee of Emmis Communications Corp. said Lamey used a racial slur off the air, in a conversation after a radio interview at Indianapolis Colts training camp. The employee said he was telling a story about when he worked at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, sharing what someone else said at the track.
WTHR reported that the Emmis employee recalled: “He had asked me if the mics were off and I said, ‘Yeah, I turned everything off. You’re fine.’ Bob Lamey’s describing this person saying he was asked in an interview, ‘Do you think anyone’s holding back their speed at IMS during quals? Do you think anyone’s holding back?’ And that person had replied ‘there aren’t any ‘blank’ in this race.”
WTHR reported that Lamey didn’t say “blank” in retelling that story and used a racial slur. “He said the N-word, yeah. He thought it was OK to use that type of language at work.”
Daly and his attorney could be facing an uphill battle on several fronts. First, the legal team representing WISH and Nexstar are likely to be much bigger and have more resources than Stoesz’s law firm, Stoesz & Stoesz.
“We’re not concerned about litigation expenses,” Stoesz told IBJ.
In addition, libel cases against media outlets are notoriously difficult to win.
“Indiana has a very strong statute in protecting the First Amendment,” said Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association. “You have to show that a media outlet printed or broadcast information that 1, is false and 2, was printed or broadcast with malice or reckless disregard for the truth,” he said.
Daly must demonstrate that WISH officials “ignored facts and knew the story was false. That can be a difficult thing to prove. The idea is you don’t want to have a chilling effect on the media’s role as watchdog for a democracy,” he said.
Media experts said WISH is unlikely to issue any public apology or correction because to do so would be an admission of wrongdoing and could open them up to future liability.
“I do not believe this is a complicated case,” Stoesz said. “This is clear: WISH-TV and Nexstar did not do their job properly.
The case is Derek Daly v. Nexstar Broadcasting Inc, WISH TV, 29D05-1902-CT-001348.