CINCINNATI – The 6th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a defamation suit filed by the mayor of a small Ohio town whom a Cleveland-area magazine lampooned in an article called “The Bizarre Mayor Boy.”
Seven Hills Mayor David Bentkowski claimed that Cleveland Scene magazine defamed him in a 2007 article that ridiculed his efforts to market his city as, in his words, “super-duper cool,” saying that the then-34-year-old must be “under the impression he’s mayor of Autistic Village.”
Titled “The Bizarre Mayor Boy,” the article says Bentkowski “brags about his youth, proudly wears Superman tights, and routinely tries to pull off stunts like limiting residents’ feedback at meetings and barring government employees from running for office.”
Bentkowski apparently did not challenge the Superman charge, but took exception to the other allegations, one of which allegedly implies that he had ulterior motives in inviting local 18-year-old girls to sign up for the Miss Seven Hills Pageant, a competition he happens to emcee.
“Bentkowski claims that the article’s juxtaposition of a description of the ‘young residents’ letter with the statement that he insisted that he emcee a pageant implies that he had improper motives in sending the letter,” Judge Boyce Martin wrote for the 6th Circuit’s three-judge panel. “However, the article does not expressly state or clearly imply that Bentkowski had an illicit motive in sending the letter.”
The panel did concede that “the references to Bentkowski limiting feedback at meetings and barring government employees from running for office are possibly verifiable facts,” but ultimately other factors outweighed the possibility of defamation.
“We are convinced that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to whether the statements at issue constitute fact or opinion: the ordinary reader would accept the article as opinion,” Martin wrote, noting Cleveland Scene’s use of simile, hyperbole and other figurative language in conjunction with the article’s clear bias.
The judges concluded that “Bentkowski failed to demonstrate actual malice, or Appellee’s argument that Bentkowski failed to produce evidence of damages linked to this article.”