Supremes Let Stand Ruling That ‘Dallas Observer’ Piece Was Satire, Not Libel

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(AP) The Supreme Court declined to consider Monday whether a news weekly’s fictional article about a 6-year-old girl getting arrested over a book report libeled two officials.

Without comment, justices let stand a lower court ruling against Denton County Court-at-law Judge Darlene Whitten and District Attorney Bruce Isaacks of Texas, who were involved in a similar real-life case. The Texas Supreme Court had reasoned the Dallas Observer article was clearly satire.

The weekly’s 1999 article, headlined “Stop the Madness,” parodied the judge’s decision weeks earlier to jail a 13-year-old student for reading a graphic Halloween story in class. The fictional article was about a girl jailed for a school report on the Maurice Sendak picture book “Where the Wild Things Are.”

In the parody, the judge is fictitiously quoted as admonishing the girl, who wore “handcuffs and ankle shackles.”

Whitten and Isaacks said the fictional article was presented as news and damaged their reputations. Their attorney said some people — even lawyers, college professors, and other journalists — thought the story was true.

The Texas Supreme Court disagreed. The court said the story had enough clues to show that it was satire involving “exaggeration or distortion,” and was thus protected by the First Amendment.

CORRECTION, June 7: An earlier headline on this article incorrectly stated that the suit involved the Texas Observer, which is based in Austin and was not involved in this case.

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