It’s the case of the wrongfully identified penis and one that showcases TMZ’s influence for better or worse.
Marques Johnson, a hip-hop artist known as Andre Roxx, who once was associated with the Wu-Tang Clan-affiliated outfit Killa Beez, has brought a defamation lawsuit against TMZ over an April 2014 article.
The story in question reported that a “rapper affiliated with Wu-Tang Clan was rushed to the hospital early Wednesday after he cut off his penis and then jumped off a second story balcony.”
Johnson says he was first tagged by TMZ as the rapper who did that, before a re-written story reflected that it was another guy — Christ Bearer.
“TMZ’s original, inaccurate story immediately spread across the internet and to television and radio news,” states a complaint filed on Wednesday in Delaware federal court.
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Johnson says the story was quickly picked up by BET.com (which reported the rapper who cut off his penis as “Andre Johnson, who spits under the name Christ Bearer and Andre Roxx) USA Today (which reported “Johnson, also known as Andre Roxx and Christ Bearer”), the television show Extra, Radio One, the New York Daily News, Urban Daily and Barstool Sports.
The parent companies of each — including Warner Bros., Viacom and Gannet — now find themselves as TMZ’s co-defendants in this case.
It gets worse.
According to the complaint, “Even after TMZ posted a corrected story, and after other media outlets had made some effort to correct their stories, Defendants continued to report the same false information — that Plaintiff had cut off his penis and jumped off a balcony, and to this day no Defendant other than TMZ has even corrected the story.”
And so the radio station 100.3 The Beat published a story, “O my! Wu Tang Affiliated Rapper Andre Roxx Jumps Off Balcony in Suicide Attempt.” For that, iHeartMedia is also being sued.
The false news spread internationally when London-based Daily Mail took it up, continues the complaint, which adds: “Other than their affiliation with the Killa Beez and the Wu Tang Clan, and the fact that they are both African American male musicians, there are and were key differences between Plaintiff and Christ Bearer. Their names, though containing the overlapping (and common) names ‘Andre’ and ‘Johnson,’ are not the same. Christ Bearer’s given name is Andre Johnson; Plaintiff’s is Marques Johnson. The two did not bear a physical resemblance at the time of the incident: Christ Bearer is at least ten years older than Plaintiff, and Plaintiff’s appearance is distinct due to his green eye color, which is unusual in African American men.”
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When the story came out, the plaintiff says he was in prison and forced to go into protective custody because other inmates began harassing him. Johnson says he got out in June 2015, but hasn’t been able to rebuild his musical career because disc jockeys and promoters told him it was too “risky” to book him thanks to the publicity.
Even the Wu Tang Clan allegedly distanced itself from him by “immediately denounc[ing] any affiliation with him, posting on their blog that ‘This m********* ain’t got s*** to do with the WUTANG brand.”
Plaintiff’s picture is said to have been posted.
This story originally appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.