Sharpton files $1 billion defamation suit against HBO

Friday, July 26, 2002

NEW YORK -- HBO called a $1 billion lawsuit filed by the Rev. Al Sharpton "silly" and dismissed his claim that the network defamed him by airing a 1983 FBI surveillance tape of him discussing a drug deal.

Sharpton said HBO showed a selectively damning portion of videotape in which he and a federal agent posing as a drug dealer discussed a cocaine shipment.

HBO spokesman Ray Stallone said the lawsuit filed Wednesday was "so silly that it is unworthy of comment." He said the network had given Sharpton an opportunity to respond on air and to provide a second tape that Sharpton claims removes any suspicion about his actions.

Sharpton was not charged with any crime as a result of the tape, which aired Tuesday night on "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel."

The state court lawsuit names HBO, HBO Real Sports, AOL Time Warner, reporter Bernard Goldberg and reputed former organized crime hood Michael Franzese as defendants.

Sharpton said Franzese and the FBI agent, who was posing as a Latin American businessman, had approached him to discuss promoting boxing matches and musical events.

"In the middle of conversation he started talking about how he could cut me in on a cocaine deal," Sharpton said. "I didn't know if he was armed. I was scared so I just nodded my head to everything he said and then he left."

Sharpton said he had asked HBO to show the second tape, in which he and a record company executive allegedly tell the undercover agent, "Don't ever talk to us about a drug deal."

Michael Hardy, one of Sharpton's lawyers, said the decision to air "an incomplete and edited tape unfairly puts Rev. Sharpton in a false light, thereby actually defaming him with malice and a gross irresponsibility."

Sharpton suggested the videotape was aired in an attempt to derail his possible 2004 presidential run.

"I will not bend, buckle or bow to a smear campaign," Sharpton said Wednesday in a sidewalk news conference in front of the courthouse.

FBI spokesman Joe Valiquette said Tuesday that he had not heard the tapes and that to his knowledge the FBI had not released them.

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