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The Case of New York Times Co V. Sullivan

  • Date Submitted: 01/10/2011 06:13 AM
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Research Paper for GOVT 2301

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)
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:
Third paragraph:
          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...


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