‘The reference to respondent as police commissioner is clear from the ad. In addition, the jury heard the testimony of a newspaper editor * * *; a real estate and insurance man * * *; the sales manager of a men’s clothing store * * *; a food equipment man * * *; a service station operator * * *; and the operator of a truck line for whom respondent had formerly worked * * *. Each of these witnesses stated that he associated the statements with respondent * * *.’ (Citations to record omitted.)
There was no reference to respondent in the advertisement, either by name or official position. A number of the allegedly libelous statements-the charges that the dining hall was padlocked and that Dr. King’s home was bombed, his person assaulted, and a perjury prosecution instituted against him-did not even concern the police; despite the ingenuity of the arguments which would attach this significance to the word ‘They,’ it is plain that these statements could not reasonably be read as accusing respondent of personal involvement in the acts in question. The statements upon which respondent principally relies as referring to him are the two allegations that did concern the police or police functions: that ‘truckloads of police * * * ringed the Alabama State College Campus’ after the demonstration on the State Capitol steps, and that Dr. King had been ‘arrested * * * seven times.’ These statements were false only in that the police had been ‘deployed near’ the campus but had not actually ‘ringed’ it and had not gone there in connection with the State Capitol demonstration, and in that Dr. King had been arrested only four times. The ruling that these discrepancies between what was true and what was asserted were sufficient to injure respondent’s reputation may itself raise constitutional problems, but we need not consider them here. Although the statements may be taken as referring to the police, they did not on their face make even an oblique reference to respondent as an individual. Support for the asserted reference must, therefore, be sought in the testimony of respondent’s witnesses. But none of them suggested any basis for the belief that respondent himself was attacked in the advertisement beyond the bare fact that he was in overall charge of the Police Department and thus bore official responsibility for police conduct; to the extent that some of the witnesses thought respondent to have been charged with ordering or approving the conduct or otherwise being personally involved in it, they based this notion not on any statements in the advertisement, and not on any evidence that he had in fact been so involved, but solely on the unsupported assumption that, because of his official position, he must have been. This reliance on the bare fact of respondent’s official position was made explicit by the Supreme Court of Alabama. That court, in holding that the trial court ‘did not err in overruling the demurrer (of the Times) in the aspect that the libelous matter was not of and concerning the (plaintiff,)’.