NEW YORK – Don King is taking on Mickey Mouse.

The promoter is suing Disney, ESPN, ABC Cable Networks and Advocate Communications, a cable company in Florida, claiming he was defamed during a broadcast of “SportsCentury” on ESPN in May. King is seeking a whopping $2.5 billion in damages.

The lawsuit was filed in Circuit Court of Broward County, Fla., on Wednesday. During a news conference, King’s lawyers played a videotape with excerpts from the program that they claim were false. The videotape also included interviews with people who disputed some of the claims made in the “SportsCentury” program.

“We have not seen a copy of the lawsuit, so we are not in a position to comment on it,” ESPN, which along with ABC is owned by Disney, said in a statement regarding the lawsuit. “However, “SportsCentury’ is a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning series of more than 250 biographies that is widely respected for its journalistic quality.”

Many of the items in the program that King said places him in a false light and defame him have been reported in other places previously and were not legally challenged by King in the past. At various times throughout the “SportsCentury” program, King is described as “a gangster, a snake oil salesman and a shameless huckster.”

“I felt this was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” King said. “I just can’t take it anymore. I’m going to fight back. I feel like I’ve been depicted in a manner that’s false and they’ve twisted the truth. I seek justice and I’m willing to let a jury decide what is right in this case.”

Willie Gary, King’s lawyer handling the lawsuit, drew a parallel between King’s lawsuit against ESPN and Disney to what happened with the report that CBS News did on President Bush’s service in the National Guard. Four high-ranking CBS executives were fired after an investigation determined that the report was flawed.

“Never before have I been involved with a case I’ve felt so strongly about,” Gary said. “No one is above the law. Don King is not above the law. Disney is not above the law and ESPN is not above the law. The Constitution gives you the right to a free press, but not the right to sloppy journalism and reporting.”

Gary said ESPN never did any fact-checking on some of the information in the “SportsCentury” program. Gary said King’s camp asked ESPN to retract portions of the program they thought defamed King and were false, but the network refused.

In one example, Gary played a clip from the program that mentioned a charity boxing event that King was involved in to raise money for a struggling hospital in Cleveland in 1972. On the program, promoter Don Elbaum said the event had an $85,000 gate but King gave the hospital only $1,500. Gary showed a newspaper clip on his video that reported the show made $80,000 and the hospital received a check for over $17,000.

“We can live with the facts, but when you twist the facts and slant the truth . . . then you have to question that kind of journalism,” Gary said.


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