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Central Ohio satirical news site's win over $2 million defamation suit upheld by appellate court

A local writer is expressing his appreciation for the First Amendment after an Ohio appellate court this week upheld a lower court’s ruling protecting his right to create satirical articles without civil penalty after a Short North restaurateur sued him for defamation.

Gere Jordan, creator of the website DelawareOhioNews.com, said the case demonstrates the importance of the First Amendment, and the way it protects the people's ability to hold public figures accountable.

"This case is really interesting because you see the importance of the First Amendment. This was satire being used to criticize someone influential over a racist dress code. And there was an attempt to stop that conversation from happening through the lawsuit," Jordan said.

Chris Corso and his company, Corso Ventures, filed suit in 2020 against the website and Jordan, who uses the pen name Ricardo Paye on the website.

A Franklin County judge dismissed the suit in Jordan’s favor, a decision the appellate court upheld this week.

Jordan said his win helps protect the art of satire. “Satire is a really valuable form of expression. Because it uses wit, irony and exaggeration to comment on the actions and policies of powerful people. By poking fun at the words and actions of influential people, you can expose flaws, inconsistencies and injustices.”

Corso claimed in his suit that the content of Jordan’s satirical articles should not be protected speech because it defamed him by insinuating he is racist. Corso asked the court for $2 million. WOSU reached out to Corso and his attorney, but have not received a response.

The Tenth District Court of Appeals found the content could not be considered defamatory if it was parody or satire, and it clearly was.

There is a disclaimer on the website that reads:

“Delaware Ohio News is an online news and content source dedicated to Delaware, Ohio. Founded in the year 1808, we strive to be Delaware's premier news source, second only to the illustrious Delaware Gazette. Although we were the first Delaware, Ohio newspaper, they remain the lords of Delaware news media. That's why we're suicidal and on so many drugs. With all of that said, everything on this website is made up. Do not rely on anything said here. Don't believe us? Read our Legal Statements.”

And, the court determined there was other satirical content present on the site.

The parody articles came after a restaurant Corso was associated with, Short North Food Hall, implemented a controversial dress code that appeared to target Black people. The dress code was rescinded and an apology was issued.

DelawareOhioNews.com published three articles in connection with the incident.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.