Rep. Charles Taylor demanded Friday that The Wall Street Journal correct and retract statements contained in an article published Wednesday and said he will sue the newspaper if it does not comply.
The demand, made in a letter written by Asheville lawyer Robert B. Long Jr. and released by Taylor’s office to The Associated Press, follows a front-page article titled “Seat in Congress Helps Mr. Taylor Help His Business.”
The article written by John R. Wilke cited congressional, corporate and real-estate records. It said Taylor has used earmarks in the federal budget to benefit his private business interests, an assertion Talyor called libelous.
Taylor, a veteran Republican from Brevard who is one of Congress’s wealthiest members, is in a fierce re-election battle with Democrat Heath Shuler, a former NFL quarterback. Although Taylor’s district in far western North Carolina leans conservative, many analysts have rated the race a tossup.
In a summary of what he said were the article’s false statements, Taylor described the story as “full of misinformation and unsupported falsehoods. … Since this information is so blatantly false, I wanted the Wall Street Journal to be aware of their role, by inserting itself into the middle of a political campaign that has been filled with lies and distortions.”
A Wall Street Journal spokesman was unable to immediately confirm that the newspaper had received Taylor’s letter and therefore could not comment.
North Carolina law requires a plaintiff who intends to file a libel action serve notice on a defendant in writing at least five days before suing, with a written summary of the statements alleged to be false and defamatory. Through a spokeswoman, Taylor said he intends to pursue all legal remedies in the case.
In the summary, Taylor identified 15 statements in the article he deemed to be false.
The story said an $11.4 million earmark Taylor added to the federal budget last year would pay to widen U.S. Highway 19 in Maggie Valley near thousands of acres of land he owns and a subdivision he developed, Maggie Valley Leisure Estates. Taylor said the widening is to occur almost entirely within the reservation of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, on the other side of a mountain from Maggie Valley, and that he owns no property near U.S. 19.
Further, Taylor said, he sold his only Maggie Valley development interest, in a project known as Wild Acres, more than two decades ago. “There is no development called Maggie Valley Leisure Estates,” the summary said.
Taylor also complained about a section of the article that linked a $4.8 million earmark to widen parts of U.S. 64 in Transylvania County to timberland he owns in the county.
“The timberland I own is miles away from U.S. Highway 64 and these passing lanes are not necessary to access that property. It is a safety feature for the thousands of residents of those areas,” Taylor wrote.
The congressman also denied helping secure a $6.75 million federally guaranteed loan to help a pair of longtime campaign contributors re-open their Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park. Taylor said Ghost Town’s former owners made minimal campaign contributions over the years, and the park is being re-opened by different owners who “will return several hundred jobs to western North Carolina.”
Taylor also said he is not an investor in a mountaintop ski resort called Wolf Ridge, as the article stated. He said another earmark the story attributed to him — a much-publicized grant of $500,000 to fund a teapot museum in Sparta — actually came from Rep. Virginia Foxx, (R-Banner Elk), who represents the district that includes Sparta.
The article also stated that Taylor served from 1966 to 1972 in the North Carolina General Assembly. He noted that his service in Raleigh continued until January 1975, writing, “This is particularly sloppy reporting, as the dates of my service are listed on my Web site.”
Bill Sabo, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, called Taylor’s demand for a retraction a wise political move.
Before Shuler’s campaign and other Democrats can “pick this up and start hammering with it,” Taylor is turning the table and responding as “a tough, aggressive, independent individual who is being picked on by the liberal media,” Sabo said.
“Taylor has generally adopted the rule that the best defense is a good offense,” Sabo said. “If you can undermine the credibility of the source, that’s a good way to do it.”