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Virtually every year since New York Times v Sullivan, the Supreme Court has decided at least one or two First Amendment cases involving the press. This now seemingly permanent, annual pageant of media cases undoubtedly has significance for the development of both constitutional law and the character of American journalism, though oddly that significance has been little explored in the scholarly literature. This past year the Court had two cases, both of which received an unusual amount of discussion within the press. It is, of course, understandable, even if not wholly defensible, for the press to give disproportionate coverage to the press cases before the Court, but these two received even more than the usual share of publicity. To say that the press did not look very good in either one would be an understatement. The reputation of journalism was blemished.

In this article I want to examine one of these decisions – the Masson case – closely, and at two levels. The Masson decision raises extremely interesting and important issues about the dimensions of the constitutional exception for defamation law. We have not by any means seen the end of the problems raised by Masson. Moreover, Masson is significant for what it reveals about the phenomenon of an annual stream of decisions involving the press, which I noted at the outset.

I begin with a close look at the facts of Masson and then turn to the constitutional problems presented to, and decided by, the Court.


Constitutional Law | First Amendment | Law

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