The New York Times v Sullivan Fifty Years Later

The New York Times v Sullivan is quite possible the single most important legal case in journalism. What brought the case about were the perjury charges against Martin Luther King Jr. The New York Times published an ad asking for donations for a defense fund. The ad had several inaccuracies in it which the police chief of the Montgomery Police Department, took offense to, he then wrote a letter to the Times asking for a retraction in compliance with Alabama law. The Times refused to print a retraction; he then brought a legal suit for deformation against the times, which eventually made it all the way to the Supreme Court at the time headed by chief justice Warren. The case established the actual malice doctrine, which states that, when a news organization is publishing a story about a public official such as a police officer, politician or in some cases a firefighter. The plaintiffs have to prove that there was actual malice or at least reckless disregard of the truth. The ruling essentially allowed new organizations to cover the civil rights protest in the south without any future legal battles. So basically, it allowed them to objectively report all the injustices perpetrated by public officials from that point forward. It is impossible to even imagine where this country would be today over fifty years later without New York Times v Sullivan, maybe Richard Nixon would have been able to finish his term in office because the Watergate Scandal would of have never came to light, or maybe we would never have learned of the Chris Christie George Washington bridge scandal would still be under wraps, because his administration would take all the news organization to court prior to their reporting.

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Posted in Important figures in media history

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