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JSPES, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Winter 2007)
pp. 453-473

Protection of Speech, or Protection of Political Allies?: The U.S. Supreme Court and Libel

William L. Anderson
Amit Shah

Frostburg State University, Maryland

In modern times, libel suits are becoming increasingly scarce, and media firms are improving their prospects of successfully defending themselves. This is due in large part because in 1964 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously changed the bounds of freedom of the press. New York Times v. Sullivan basically struck down all state laws on libel and gave new guidelines on how future libel laws needed to be written when the subject in question involved the actions of “public officials.” The authors’ examination of the decision and its aftermath infers that the Supreme Court was protecting media outlets such as the New York Times that had been supportive of the court’s own “progressive” agenda. The Sullivan decision ultimately relieved the Times and other media organizations of huge potential financial liabilities by substantially lessening their exposure to libel. Furthermore, the court’s 1974 Gertz v. Robert Welch decision, far from being a “give back” ruling, further advances the authors’ theme.