Restoring his reputation is Levesque’s right

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Everyone has a right to defend their reputation, especially when it’s besmirched through no fault of their own.

Leon Levesque, the superintendent of the Lewiston school system, did not deserve the national ridicule he suffered at the hands of one misguided satirist and several shortsighted and vitriolic national pundits, following a hate-motivated incident at Lewiston Middle School in April.

Seizing upon a parody of the incident – which, as we all know by now, involved the use of ham to offend Muslim students – that was penned by a nitwit in Atlanta, some national newscasts seized upon the article’s fabrications and juvenile humor as a platform to attack Levesque.

The false reports unleashed a merciless wave of criticism toward the superintendent, mostly perpetuated by small-minded bigots from far beyond the Twin Cities, inspired by the gleeful attack of broadcasters on shows such as “Fox and Friends,” the morning show on the Fox News Channel.

Two of the show’s hosts, and the network, now have new titles: defendants, in a libel and slander suit filed by Levesque. He alleges they acted willfully in reporting mistruths about the incident, and he wants a jury trial.

That “Fox and Friends” found time to make a large ham sandwich as a prop to needle Levesque and Lewiston, yet failed to realize the outlandish tale before them was complete baloney, hints the network decided a good story trumped responsible fact-checking, and lends credence to the superintendent’s claim.

Levesque, in his lawsuit filed June 22 in federal court in Portland, seeks unidentified damages greater than $75,000, the minimum figure required by law to trigger federal jurisdiction in civil litigation.

The money, however, is far from the lawsuit’s true purpose. Levesque’s reputation was mangled because of this; the details of the fallout, and what Levesque was subjected to, is even more twisted than the original parody article.

His lawyer said the suit wishes to hold entities such as Fox News accountable for shoddy practices and irresponsible, offensive reporting. It’s a laudable, but difficult to attain, goal, as libel and slander are often difficult to prove.

The key is intent – did “Fox and Friends” knowingly malign Levesque, even though the story wasn’t true? That’s now up for a federal jury to decide.

We support Levesque, a smart and honorable superintendent, in his quest to find out.

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