Rex vs. Zenger: The Foundation of the free press. John Peter Zenger printed The New York Weekly Journal, a newspaper that criticized and satirically mocked Royal Governor William Cosby. Zenger was charged with seditious libel and expected to be found guilty as the truth was no defense in English common law. Zenger’s lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, contrived a novel defense that Zenger printed the truth, so no libel had been committed and the jury had the duty to judge the law as well as the fact. The jury acquitted Zenger, setting the precedent that in America, the truth is a defense.

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Alien and Sedition Acts: Federalists make it a crime to criticize the President or the U.S. Government in print and in speech.


Jefferson was often criticized in partisan newspapers. Here he is depicted as being robbed by Napoleon and King George III of England.

Destruction of the African American owned Wilmington, North Carolina Daily Record by white supremacists.

Ushering in Jim Crow

Frederick Madison Roberts founds the New Age newspaper in Los Angeles, advocating for civil rights.

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New York Times vs. Sullivan: Printing the truth is an absolute defense in civil lawsuits and public officials must prove actual malice for libel to occur.

If it's true, you cannot sue

Garrison vs. Louisiana: The New York Times vs. Sullivan decision upholding press freedoms applies in criminal as well as civil lawsuits.

The price of being in the public eye

Associated Press vs. Walker: Public figures cannot successfully sue the press for libel unless they can prove “highly unreasonable conduct constituting an extreme departure from the standards of investigation and reporting ordinarily adhered to by responsible publishers.”

The truth hurts

New York Times vs. The United States “the Pentagon Papers”: The government may not censor the press except under extraordinary circumstances.

Daniel Ellsberg, Whistelblower

Branzburg vs. Hayes: The First Amendment does not protect reporters from testifying before a grand jury.

Justice vs. Journalism?

Hustler Magazine vs. Falwell: Public figures cannot claim damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress by publishers of parody and satire.

"Just Kidding!"