Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Is It Still Satire If You Can Find Someone Who Missed The Joke?

from the the-death-of-satire dept

As expected, it's shaping up to be something of a slow news day, but there are still a few good stories out there. This one, found over at Tech Law Advisor shows why people without a sense of humor shouldn't be allowed to hire (or be) lawyers. A few years back, after a judge ordered the detention of a 13-year-old kid for handing in a school essay with a "violent tone", the Dallas Observer wrote up a satire piece about the same folks having a 6-year-old arrested for writing a book report on Maurice Sendak's insanely popular children's book "Where the Wild Things Are." In the article, they made up ridiculous quotes ("We've considered having her certified to stand trial as an adult, but even in Texas there are some limits." and "Any implication of violence in a school situation, even if it was just contained in a first-grader's book report, is reason enough for panic and overreaction.") and attributed them to real people who were involved in the original case. Those people are now suing for libel. Of course, satire and opinion are protected speech, but the people in question are claiming that because some people don't have a sense of humor and missed the satire, it's not satire at all. If that argument stood, then all you would need to do to unprotect satire is find someone with no sense of humor who missed the joke - and rush them to the courthouse to have them help you file your lawsuit. Meanwhile, it seems like the judges are realizing that this case is pointless. Yet more evidence that we live in a society where if anyone says anything you don't want to hear, you sue first and act offended later.

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  • identicon
    John Jorsett, 25 Dec 2003 @ 10:32am

    Ignoramus's Veto

    This is the "Ignoramus's Veto," in which possible misinterpretation of speech is used as justification for its suppression. Similar to the "heckler's veto," in which possible violence against a speaker is seen as justification to ban the speech. Both have been found to be violations of the First Amendment. There was a case in San Diego a few years back in which "immigration advocates" threatened members of a "citizen's patrol" who were protesting the airlines allowing illegal aliens to board flights without the federally-mandated ID check. That threat was used as justification to ban the citizen's patrol members from the airport. A judge ruled against the ban, citing the "heckler's veto" doctrine.

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