The Argus Leader [Sioux Falls] moved to dismiss a libel suit stemming from a column it ran featuring a satirical letter of apology from Sioux Falls Development Foundation President Dan Scott. The column ran on the paper’s Voices section underneath executive editor Randell Beck’s byline and photograph purporting to be an apology written by Scott, who had come under fire for telling state lawmakers who did not want to help Sioux Falls develop to “stay out of the way” because he had “a city build.”
In the fake apology, Beck, writing as Scott, said that he “was, uh, let’s see, I was really talking about legislators in NORTH Dakota. Yeah, that’s it! North Dakota” and went on to note that he was “hoping people are dumb enough to think I’m apologizing, which I’m not.”
Despite such obvious clues that the column was a work of parody, Scott’s lawyer, former South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow, argued that at least some of the newspaper’s readers attributed the letter to Scott.
In the end though, even if some readers did misinterpret the column, the court must determine whether a reasonable person would understand that the piece was a parody and therefore fully protected by the First Amendment. Given the obvious context clues – most notably that the column dripped of sarcasm and appeared under someone else’s byline on an editorial page – any reasonable person would interpret as just that.
Scott announced that he would be stepping down as president of the Sioux Falls Development Foundation earlier this month.