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Actual Malice: Civil Rights and Freedom of the Press in New York Times v. Sullivan (Hardcover)
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"A detailed examination of . . . the landmark 1964 Supreme Court decision that defined libel laws and increased protections for journalists."—The New York Times Book Review
"A heroic narrative."—The New Yorker
A deeply researched legal drama that documents this landmark First Amendment ruling—one that is more critical and controversial than ever.
Actual Malice tells the full story of New York Times v. Sullivan, the dramatic case that grew out of segregationists' attempts to quash reporting on the civil rights movement. In its landmark 1964 decision, the Supreme Court held that a public official must prove "actual malice" or reckless disregard of the truth to win a libel lawsuit, providing critical protections for free speech and freedom of the press.
Drawing on previously unexplored sources, including the archives of the New York Times Company and civil rights leaders, Samantha Barbas tracks the saga behind one of the most important First Amendment rulings in history. She situates the case within the turbulent 1960s and the history of the press, alongside striking portraits of the lawyers, officials, judges, activists, editors, and journalists who brought and defended the case. As the Sullivan doctrine faces growing controversy, Actual Malice reminds us of the stakes of the case that shaped American reporting and public discourse as we know it.
About the Author
Samantha Barbas is Professor of Law at the University at Buffalo School of Law. She is the author of six books on mass media law and history, including The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst, Free Speech Renegade and Newsworthy: The Supreme Court Battle over Privacy and Press Freedom.
"A law professor puts forth a detailed examination of New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark 1964 Supreme Court decision that defined libel laws and increased protections for journalists, in the context of the civil rights movement."
— The New York Times Book Review
"A new book, Actual Malice, by Samantha Barbas, a law professor and historian, unfurls the story of the case and reminds readers that the triumph of press freedom was an outgrowth of the civil-rights struggle. Versions of the story have been told before, perhaps most famously in Anthony Lewis’s "Make No Law" more than three decades ago. Yet Barbas deftly employs archival sources—notably from the Times, from the Martin Luther King, Jr., papers, and from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference—to shed new light. Her book illuminates the effect of libel suits on journalists’ ability to cover the movement, the legal strategies used against those suits, and the impact of the case on the civil-rights movement itself. A heroic narrative in which the litigation helped vanquish segregationists serves to underscore what Barbas calls the 'centrality of freedom of speech to democracy.'"
— The New Yorker
“Barbas’s endorsement of the Sullivan decision is more nuanced than those of [Anthony] Lewis and [Aimee] Edmondson, and more reflective of the current moment. She appreciates the need for libel lawsuits at a time when ‘damaging falsehoods can spread online with a click, and reputations [can be] destroyed instantly.’ But she recognizes that the protections of Sullivan are needed as much, or more, by individuals as by media companies. The story of Sullivan, and of the precedent’s possible demise, reveals as much about our own times as it does the 1960s.”
— Jeffrey Toobin
"One might think that another book-length history and analysis of New York Times v. Sullivan would be superfluous, given the quality of Lewis’s Make No Law and Hall and Urofsky's New York Times v. Sullivan: Civil Rights, Libel Law, and the Free Press. Actual Malice, however, may become the go-to book for combining both perspectives in a single volume and enhancing them with some archival sources that the other two books did not use."
— Choice Reviews
"Actual Malice is concise yet thorough, crisply written, brimming with sharp observations, amply documented, and admirably acknowledges different points of view."
— Law and Liberty