By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
On Friday, a unanimous Texas Supreme Court, with one justice abstaining, sided with the Dallas Observerand ruled 8-0 that Denton County District Attorney Bruce Isaacks and County Court at Law Judge Darlene Whitten are "big doodyheads who need to grow up, get a sense of humor and act like they've got a pair."
OK, so the court didn't exactly put it like that. But guess what? Humor, parody and political satire are now protected free speech in Texas, so Buzz can freely make up all the quotes we want! (Our lawyers may disagree. That's why we're not asking them.)
In actual fact--and this may be the last time you ever see one of those in Buzz--the court reversed an appellate court decision and granted the Observer summary judgment in a libel case brought by Isaacks and Whitten over a satiric, fake "news" story we published five years ago. The story ("Stop the Madness," by Rose Farley, November 11, 1999) purported to report on the jailing of a 6-year-old Ponder Elementary School student who was arrested for deviant behavior for writing a book report about the children's classic Where the Wild Things Are. The point of the satire was to skewer Whitten and Isaacks over the actual jailing of a 13-year-old Ponder student, Christopher Beamon, for writing a Halloween essay featuring the shooting of a teacher and fellow students.
Isaacks and Whitten didn't see the humor in the satire and demanded an apology and retraction. We replied with a suggestion involving them "and the horse they rode in on," and off to the courthouse we went.
Isaacks and Whitten contended that many readers believed we were reporting actual facts in the parody. In the Supreme Court's opinion, Justice Wallace Jefferson wrote, "While a reader may initially approach the article as providing straight news, 'Stop the madness' contains such a procession of improbable quotes and unlikely events that a reasonable reader could only conclude that the article was satirical."
And as for Christopher Beamon, whose woes started all this--we couldn't locate him for comment, but his former lawyer, Bill Short, says he stopped attending Ponder schools and about three years ago reached a confidential settlement with the school district without a lawsuit being filed.