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Candidate’s big mouth leaves him empty handed


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lmallory

By Laura Mallory

A United States Senate candidate filed a lawsuit against a Dallas newspaper alleging the newspaper published a statement that was defamatory in nature.

During the candidate’s senate run, the newspaper interviewed him at which time he expressed his views on a variety of issues and explained that immigration was one of his top three platforms. The candidate then went on to express his views on immigration and proposed courses of action. What was said during that interview is not in dispute, however, the candidate asserts that a statement he made was taken out of context.

Doesn’t like the President
The newspaper published a story that stated the candidate said ranchers should be allowed to shoot on sight, anyone that illegally crosses the border onto their land, referred to such people as “wetbacks” and called President Obama a “socialist son of a bitch.” The candidate took issue with the “shoot on sight” statement alleging that it was taken out of context and that statement was qualified by concerns when ranchers are “afraid” or in “fear for their life.”

The law on defamation provides that public officials and public figures must prove statements were made with actual malice in order to successfully bring a defamation claim. The purpose of this higher standard is to protect uninhibited debate on public issues. 

Actual malice does not mean ill-will or an evil motive, rather, in order to prove actual malice, a claimant must demonstrate a statement was made with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether or not it was true. Negligence is not enough, reckless disregard is a higher burden that requires a high degree of awareness of probable falsity or serious doubt as to the truth of the statement.

He said it, doesn’t deny it
The evidence in this case consisted of a recording of the interview, a transcript of the interview, the reporter’s handwritten notices, and an affidavit of both the reporter and the plaintiff. It was undisputed that the candidate used the term “wetbacks” in the interview, discussed force to protect our borders from immigrants and did refer to President Obama as a “socialist son of a bitch.” The only dispute was whether the newspaper defamed plaintiff by not qualifying the phrase “shoot on sight” with language that indicated that was appropriate only when a rancher was in fear for his or her life.

The court explained that paraphrasing or deliberately altering words of another does not establish actual malice unless there is some evidence that the newspaper intentionally distorted the remarks or only a reckless publisher would have made the mistake. But a misunderstanding of ambiguous facts does not amount to actual malice. The court found that the published statement was a rational interpretation of what the candidate said during the interview.



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