Monday, September 17, 2007

Argus Seeks Scott Lawsuit Dismissal

The Argus wants the judge to dismiss the libel suit brought by Sioux Falls Development Foundation president Dan Scott over a op-ed piece by Randell Beck because they say the suit “seeks to chill a journalist’s constitutionally protected commentary on issues important to all South Dakota citizens”.

Reading through the dismissal request I do find the claim by the Argus that the July 15th op-ed piece where Beck crafts an apology letter that is supposedly written by Dan Scott is somehow an issue "important to all South Dakota citizens" to be going just a bit overboard. But it had been a while since I read the op-ed in question so as a refresher I thought I would read it again but low and behold it is no longer available (dead link warning).

But luckily through the miracle that is the internet, the Google cache still is and because I am sure the cached version won't last forever either, here is the Beck column in it's entirety.
Divisively arrogant: Dan Scott's apology
By Randell Beck
rabeck@argusleader.com
Published: July 15, 2007

News item: Dan Scott of the Sioux Falls Development Foundation, under fire for comments directed toward out-of-state lawmakers, has said his remarks were taken out of context.

Speaking at a June 15 breakfast, sponsored by the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce for lawmakers from across the state, Scott stressed the importance of helping Sioux Falls develop. If they don't, Scott said, "Stay out of the way, will you? We've got a city to build!"

Some public officials across the state characterized the remark as divisive and arrogant. Seeking to mend fences, members of the foundation's board asked Scott to write a letter of apology to lawmakers.

Scott's letter, dated July 5, is available at argusleader.com. Or you can read a reasonable facsimile right here.

To: South Dakota Legislators

From: Dan Scott, Sioux Falls Development Foundation


You may have read an article in the Argus Leader blatantly misquoting my remarks at a recent Chamber of Commerce breakfast for out-of-state lawmakers.

You know how that newspaper is, so you won't be surprised to learn that when I said, "Stay out of the way, will you? We've got a city to build,'' I was, uh, let's see, I was really talking about legislators in NORTH Dakota. Yeah, that's it! North Dakota. That was obvious to everybody, and even though I am not admitting I said anything like that, leave it to the Argus Leader to put a negative spin on it.

Well, after the Argus Leader misquoted me saying what I'm not admitting I actually said, the whole thing blew up. Now my job is on the line. A few hicks from small towns with zero hope of ever having a strip mall or a river walk complained about what I said - even though I didn't say it - and now the money boys in town are squeezing me hard. They told me I had to apologize to you, which I'm not officially doing in this letter, because I did nothing to apologize for, even though I'm hoping people are dumb enough to think I'm apologizing, which I'm not.

Here in the golden city of Sioux Falls, we're pretty darn proud of our success. Let's be honest: We have more money, better jobs and nicer houses than other towns. Even the governor, who lives in one of those towns, has called us the "economic engine" of the state. As I like to say, an engine doesn't get very far without other important stuff - like, oh, the glove box or cup holders. If we didn't think the small towns of South Dakota were important, we wouldn't have launched our campaign to persuade young people to leave them and move to Sioux Falls so they can get better jobs, more money and nicer houses.

Here in the shining city of Sioux Falls, we've been bellyaching privately for a long time that the state Legislature is dominated by people like you from small towns who don't care a whit about our little slice of paradise.

We finally got some of our guys into leadership positions in the Legislature, and so we think we've got a decent chance to take over. Our motto is: "What's good for Sioux Falls is good for South Dakota.'' If political muscle doesn't work and you still vote against bills that give us a blank check to do anything we want, we may secede and move to Iowa.

Oh, I'm just kidding on that one.

In conclusion, I feel certain we are all on the same page when it comes to making this state a better place for our children and grandchildren - as long as you speak reverently of Sioux Falls and enthusiastically support everything we want. Because all of us are public servants selflessly devoted to the common good, we are bound to encounter an occasional disappointment along the way, such as being misquoted and taken entirely out of context when I was clearly talking trash about North Dakota lawmakers, not you. If I manage to keep my job, I intend to work even harder in the future to brag about our good fortune to live, work and play in a city like Sioux Falls.

Too bad you don't.
Of course nowhere in the column will you find any true indication that it is a fake letter not actually written by Dan Scott (or is that what that reasonable facsimile comment is all about?) and is actually a completely satirical creation by Beck. That fact was also apparently missed by many of the commenters to the story as well.

I am no lawyer (nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night) so I have a hard time understanding how fabricating a letter and publishing it under the name of someone else without some kind of obvious disclaimer is considered protected speech under the First Amendment like the Argus claims. I am sure though that Scott's attorney Bill Janklow will have something to say on that subject real soon. And so will the judge...

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