Research Paper for GOVT 2301
The Case of NEW YORK TIMES CO. v. SULLIVAN
Chapter 6: Mass Media –
Setting the Political Agenda
Generally, defamatory statements are not protected as free speech under the United States
Constitution and states may pass laws to inhibit them. There are two types of defamatory statements, slander, and libel. Slander is defined as oral statements that are false and intended to damage an individual. Libel refers to writings that are false and intended to damage an individual (Neville).
For example, if a newspaper published a false article claiming that Joe, an average citizen, is a “no good son of a bitch”, then Joe would be entitled to sue the newspaper for libeling him (Dye).
However, if Joe were not an average citizen, but a public official, the result would be different.
This is because there is an exception to the general rule of libel if the person the article is written about is a public official. This exception is known as the Sullivan Rule because it is based off the United States Supreme Court decision in New York Times Co v. Sullivan (Neville).
“L.B. Sullivan was a commissioner of the city of Montgomery, Alabama, whose duties included supervision of the police department. The New York Times carried a full-page advertisement that included several false statements of repressive police conduct in Montgomery. L.B. Sullivan sued for damages on grounds that New York Times libeled him, stating that although his name was not mentioned, the accusations of the ad could be read as referring to him” (Neville)
... Crime," Technology Review, April 1989, V 89. Sullivan, D. "U. S. Charges Young Hackers." New York Times, Nov. 15, 1992, 1, 40: 4 ... . This law states that one can't intentionally break into a computer system ... law. What they are doing is very illegal. The United States government passed the Computer Fraud and Abuse act in 1986 ...
L.B. Sullivan based his allegation of being libeled in the third and a portion of the sixth paragraphs of the advertisement’s text. ‘They read as follows:
In Montgomery, Alabama, after students sang “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” on the State Capitol steps, their leaders were expelled form school, and truckloads of police armed with shotguns and tear-gas ringed the Alabama State College Campus. When the entire student body protested to state authorities by refusing to re-register, their dining hall was padlocked in an attempt to starve them into submission (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan).
Again and again the Southern violators have answered Dr. King’s peaceful protests with intimidation and violence. They have bombed his home almost killing his wife and child. They have assaulted his person. They have arrested him seven times-for “speeding”, “loitering”, and similar “offenses.” And now they have charged him with “perjury”-a felony under which they could imprison him for ten years… (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan).
Although neither of these statements mentioned LB Sullivan by name, he contended that the word “police” in the third paragraph referred to him because he supervised the Police Department. L.B. Sullivan argued that he was being accused of “ringing” the campus with police. He further claimed that the padlocking of the dining hall in order to starve the students into submission would be read as imputing to the police, and hence to him. As to the sixth paragraph, he contended that since arrests are ordinarily made by the police, the statement “They have arrested [Dr. King] seven times” would be read as referring to him….(New York Times Co. v. Sullivan).
It was not disputed that some of the statements contained in the two paragraphs were not accurate descriptions of the events that occurred in Montgomery. For example, although] Negro students staged a demonstration on the State Capitol steps; they sang the National Anthem and not “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” Dr. King had not been arrested seven times, but only four; and although he claimed to have been assaulted some years earlier in connection with his arrest for loitering outside a courtroom, one of the officers who made the arrest denied that there was such an assault. The New York Times argued that these misstatements were only minor errors, which they were not aware of, and did not warrant a ruling of libel against the paper (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan).
... public police play a large part in protecting the public ... police are expected to investigate crimes, it is not at all times ... (2013). An introduction to policing. Stamford, CT : Cengage ... police ... police ... police ... The police also ... police ... police ... police ... police ... police have ... police ... public ... public events ... police ... police ... public ... police ... policing. The reactive involves responding to public calls for help. Here, the police ...
Under Alabama law at the time of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, a publication was considered libel if it tended to injure a person’s reputation or bring him into the public’s contempt, unless the statement was true. The law further stated that if published words injured a public official in his public duty, or imputed misconduct to his public office the standard for libel was met. The New York Times argued that the Alabama law was unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendment, because it inhibited the freedom of the press. The New York Times alleged that the Alabama laws would create a dampening effect on public debate and criticism if the accuracy of every statement published had to be verified for its truthfulness (Rotunda).
The Court ruled in favor of the New York Times. It held that the First and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution “prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct, unless he proves that statement was made with actual malice”. The Court defined actual malice as “knowledge that the statement is false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not” (New York Times Co v. Sullivan).
In short, a newspaper may publish an article that contains some false information about a public official and not be sued for libel. This is true unless it can be proven that the newspaper knew the defamatory statements were false at the time they were printed or were reckless in determining the truthfulness of the statements. Because proving a malicious intent is fairly difficult, this rule provides broad protection for the media against lawsuits by public officials. The Court reasoned, “erroneous statements [are] inevitable in free debate, and that [they] must be protected if the freedoms of expression are to have the ‘breathing space’ that they ‘need…to survive.” Without this protection, the Court reasoned public criticism would be inhibited. The press can speak more openly and freely if it does not have worry about the legal repercussions of its statements (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan).
... The main concern that is raised by the court officials is about the live camera coverage, according to ... because of the mass reactions. The official concerned that the mass reaction is not the ... reasonable judgment because during the whole process the officials feel confused to express their views thoroughly ... one main goal that is to maintain the rule of law within the society by operating ...
Originally, the Sullivan Rule only applied to the actions of public officials in their public capacity. In subsequent cases, the Supreme Court has extended the protection of the Sullivan Rule. In Monitor Patriot Co. v. Roy, the Court extended the definition of public officials to include candidates for public office. In Garrison v. Louisiana, the Court ruled that a public official’s private reputation as well as his public reputation is covered by the Sullivan Rule. Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts broadened the rule to also include public figures. In Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, the Court held that a public figure could not sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress unless the published statements met the Sullivan standard of malice. Perhaps the furthest extension of the Sullivan Rule is found in Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc. where the Court stated that even “a deliberate altercation of the words uttered by a plaintiff does not equate with knowledge of falsity . . . unless the altercation results in a material change in the meaning of the words conveyed by the statement.” Thus after the Mason v. New York Magazine, Inc. ruling, the press could now deliberately misquote a public figure’s statements and not be sued for libel, as long as the general meaning of the statement has not been changed.
In conclusion, the Sullivan Rule provides broad protection to the media against lawsuits brought by public officials who claim that inaccurate information has been published about them. For public officials to prevail in libel lawsuit they have the difficult burden of proving the false information was published with malicious intent as opposed to mere error. The purpose of the Sullivan Rule is enable the media to freely criticize public officials, as consistent with the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, without the fear of repercussions for making such criticisms. Other Supreme Court cases have expanded the scope of the Sullivan Rule to cover statements published about candidates for public office and public figures. The Supreme Court has even gone so far as to rule that the media may even deliberately misquote statements made by a public figure and still be protected under the Sullivan Rule provided that the inaccurate quote does not change the gist of the public figure’s actual statement.
... . Had Mrs. Steven’s submitted the correct form, the court could have ruled in her favor and not dismissed the case. Conclusion ... the action was done intentional or un-willful. Every court has rules and there are conditions when those laws do not apply ... prevented the defendant access to the records (Justia, 2014). Rule The Supreme Court of Tennessee overruled the fact that a trial judge ...
Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130, 87 S.Ct. 1975.
Dye, Thomas. Politics in America 5th Edition.
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003:196-197.
Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 64, 85 S.Ct. 1964.
Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46, 108 S.Ct. 1988.
Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 501 U.S. 496, 111 S.Ct. 1991.
Monitor Patriot Co. v. Roy, 401 U.S. 265, 91 S.Ct. 1971.
Neville, Jonathan. Legalines, Constitutional Law.
Chicago, IL: The BarBri Group, 2003: 224-226.
Rotunda, Ronald. Modern Constitutional Law.
St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co., 2003: 1170-1179.