In Freedom Newspapers of Texas v. Cantu, 168 S.W.3d 847 (Tex. 2005), the supreme court considered a similar argument in the context of summary judgment. There, the former sheriff of Cameron County, Conrado Cantu, sued the local newspaper alleging he was defamed in a story about a candidate debate. Id. at 849.
During the debate, Cantu made comments about cultural and language differences between him and his opponent and said he could address residents' needs because he was "bi-cultural." Id. at 850.
The reporter covering the debate took notes but did not record it. (An audience member did record the event.)
The next morning, an article appeared on page one under a headline that read: "Cantu: No Anglo can be sheriff of Cameron County". In the article, the reporter used quotation marks repeatedly to indicate statements made by Cantu and his opponent. Id. at 851.
Cantu went to the newspaper offices that day, spoke to the editor, and objected to the use of the word, "Anglo." The newspaper published a second article the next day under the headline, "Sheriff candidate says racial issue wasn't the point". Id.
he article contained Cantu's remarks that he never intended to suggest race was an issue in the campaign and quoted Cantu as saying, "I did not say an Anglo could not be sheriff." Id. at 851-52.
The article also contained remarks from his opponent saying he understood Cantu's remarks to suggest he was "incapable of communicating or relating with the Hispanic culture." Id. at 852.
Another citizen was quoted as saying he "clearly heard that the only person who could be sheriff is an Hispanic." Id.
Cantu ultimately won the election. After taking office, he sued the newspaper for defamation. Id. The newspaper moved for summary judgment, which the trial court denied. In an interlocutory appeal, the court of appeals affirmed.
The supreme court, however, concluded there was no evidence of actual malice, reversed the court of appeals, and rendered a take-nothing judgment. Id. at 853.
The court's decision was based, in part, on its conclusion that given the entire context of the debate, the articles were a rational interpretation of Cantu's remarks. Id. at 857.
The court noted Cantu's remarks "bristled with ambiguities." Although Cantu asserted his remarks were not racial as anyone could be both bilingual and bicultural, the court noted the context of the statements was a debate in which Cantu was attempting to distinguish himself from his opponent. Id. at 856.
Cantu conceded at his deposition that he knew his opponent was not Hispanic, but did not know whether he spoke Spanish, suggesting he was using "bilingual" as a race issue.
Further, Cantu could not explain why his opponent was not "bicultural." The court explained these terms are "similar to those sometimes used for ulterior purposes." Id.