Sunday, February 13, 2005

History Repeats Itself!

A quotation from the book Reckless Disregard by Renata Adler, Vintage Press, Copyright 1986, pp244-245 paperback edition.
“In the Sullivan case…held essentially that criticism of public officials in the performance of their official function is for the most part (and in the absence of clear and convincing proof of “actual malice”, in the new sense of “knowledge of falsity” or “reckless disregard”) Constitutionally protected. The case favored, above all, dissent and diversity, in the context of the great moral movement that was civil rights. It could not, however, have foreseen that in modern life it is the press itself that has, to a degree, become unitary, powerful, monolithic, suppressing the very diversity that it was the purpose of the First Amendment (and even Sullivan) to protect.
Another unforeseeable result of Sullivan: since “actual malice” was redefined (by Justice Byron White speaking for the Court in St. Amant v. Thompson) to include “serious doubt”, there have been consequences of an entirely ironical and entirely unintended sort. Publications, in order not to be vulnerable, in any future lawsuit, to the charge that they had in fact, at any point in the writing or publishing of a story, a “serious doubt”, are beginning actively to discourage responsible inquiry, checking, editorial queries in the margin, all of which would constitute evidence (before courts that interpret St. Amant too simplistically and literally) that whoever asked, checked, made those queries in the margin did have that form of “ actual malice” which is “serious doubt”. It is obvious that this interpretation encourages almost everything that is undesirable and unprofessional in journalism - and that is the opposite of what Justice White intended, in the entirety of his opinion for the Court in St. Amant…”
It is not altogether surprising that the two media companies whose actions Adler reviewed are at the forefront of today’s controversies! The cases were Westmoreland v. CBS et al. and Sharon v. Time (allowing that Time is now Time-Warner, the parent of CNN).
Update 2/14/05 11:57 AM - Click on heading to go to . Check out the detailed report on the "Palestine Hotel" event. So much for the comparison of what can be found in the MSM versus the Blogosphere! More later on the Wall Street Journal's internal contradictions between the editorial pages and page B1!


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