Event: How the Media Covers High Profile Criminal Cases: Do the Facts Really Matter?

Please join us for the second lecture this semester for the Law, Politics and the Media Speaker Series.

William J. Fitzpatrick
District Attorney, Onondaga County

Wednesday, February 18, 4:00 p.m.
Syracuse University College of Law
Dineen Hall, Sonkin Seminar Room 342

Mr. Fitzpatrick has served as Onondaga County District Attorney since 1992, and has been a member of the Onondaga County District Attorney’s office for more than 30 years, with involvement in a variety of cases that have covered every facet of the law. Mr. Fitzpatrick’s work has gained national notoriety, including the 1992 conviction of Waneta Hoyt, which led to increasing awareness in the medical and legal communities about infant homicide and SIDS prevention, and recently, the conviction of “Black Widow” killer Stacy Castor.

Mr. Fitzpatrick’s lecture is sponsored by the interdisciplinary Institute for the Study of the Judiciary, Politics and the Media, and the Tully Center for Free Speech.

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Event: Squaring the Right of Publicity with the First Amendment

Please join us for the first lecture this semester the Law, Politics and the Media Speaker Series.

Paul M. Smith
Partner, Jenner & Block

Wednesday, January 28, 4:00 p.m.
Syracuse University College of Law
Dineen Hall, Sonkin Seminar Room 342

Mr. Smith has had an active Supreme Court practice for three decades, including oral arguments in 15 cases involving matters ranging from free speech and civil rights to civil procedure. Among his important victories have been Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark gay rights case, and Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Ass’n, establishing the First Amendment rights of those who produce and sell video games. Mr. Smith is Chair of the Appellate and Supreme Court Practice and Co-Chair of the Media and First Amendment, and Election Law and Redistricting Practices at Jenner & Block.

Mr. Smith’s lecture is sponsored by the interdisciplinary Institute for the Study of the Judiciary, Politics and the Media; the Tully Center for Free Speech; and the Kissel Fund for Civil Liberties.

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The Year in Free Speech: 2014


The Year in Free Speech: 2014

By Roy S. Gutterman

Free speech issues became part of both the national and international dialogue in 2014.  From the Michael Brown shooting protests in Ferguson, Missouri, to crackdowns on journalists covering those protests to the murder and imprisonment of journalists around the world, many of the issues usually isolated to those expressing their rights came to the forefront of the general public.

As the nation began examining police practices around the country, it was journalists fueling the story and citizens taking to the streets in protest. In Ferguson, it did not take long before authorities turned on journalists, harassing some, detaining others and chilling the coverage.  The press’s vital role in telling the stories’ multiple sides almost got muted.

The year ended with two high-profile cases – the Sony hacking scandal and the Rolling Stone University of Virginia story – which further tested the boundaries of both free speech, the press, free flow of information and the law.

While the full story behind the Rolling Stone story is still unfolding, the case became another example of the value of an independent press as well as the shortfalls.

The Sony hacking scandal began as a computer hacking incident and turned into an international debate on censorship after Sony pulled the controversial film The Interview from theaters.

Sony seemed to have been chilled into self-censorship by some unspecified, vague threats of violence and reprisals for the movie.  Sony later changed courses and released the movie in 331 theaters (instead of the 2,000 or 3,000 it initially planned).  Sony also made the movie available through a number of online venues, possibly changing the way movies will be distributed in the future.  The internet may have both burned and saved Sony.  But who could have imagined that Seth Rogen and James Franco would ever become martyrs in a fight over censorship?

There may be some more fallout from the Sony scandal, though, because the company’s lawyer, David Boies, who purports to be a supporter of free speech and free press values, has threatened legal action against media entities who publish materials supplied by the hackers.

Meanwhile, the media continues to publish materials they should not have thanks to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks.  Snowden continues to raise questions about government power and the rights of whistleblowers.

And, New York Times reporter James Risen sits on a precipice with his appeals exhausted and the Department of Justice seeking the identity of his confidential sources.  The Attorney General has said that he will not seek to imprison Risen, a journalist who was doing his job.  But Risen is still waiting to learn his fate.

Free speech is intricately intertwined with free press rights, and under American law, in  our First Amendment.  Perhaps nobody has exhibited these free press and free speech rights more than journalists covering issues that others do not want covered, specifically in the Middle East and other war zones.  As we embark on the New Year, journalists remain in jails around the world, particularly in Egypt and Iran, imprisoned for no other reason than committing journalism.

Even more starkly, this year will be remembered for James Foley and Stephen Sotloff, two journalists who were brutally murdered at the hands of militants in Syria.  They were killed because they were American journalists.  They wanted to tell the world stories that the world needed to know. And they were killed for it.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported 60 journalists were killed around the world and more than 200 were imprisoned in 2014.  These stark and dark statistics will haunt 2014, and possibly 2015.


Roy S. Gutterman is an associate professor and director of The Tully Center for Free Speech at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. 

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Tough Questions from Moscow By Roy S. Gutterman

The Moscow Readings Conference drew scholars from all over the world – China, Hungary, Germany, Finland, Belgium, Austria and Australia.  I was one of two American professors at the conference at Lomonosov Moscow State University, one of Russia’s biggest universities and perhaps the most prestigious journalism school in the country.

The university, founded in 1755, has hosted this conference for the past six years, drawing scholars and speakers from around the world to discuss cutting-edge media issues.  The journalism school, housed in the former mansion of an 18-century scientist, sits across the street from Red Square and the Kremlin.

It was quite a juxtaposition to give lectures on the impact of modern intellectual property law on free speech as well as media independence and other free speech values in a place where these issues are still being developed and are frequently challenged.

Additionally, discussions about media these days percolate in the shadow of Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who is living in exile in Russia.  Snowden was a major figure on Russian television especially the two English-language channels available on my hotel cable television.

Snowden was also a frequent source of questions from fellow academics at the conference. In some circles, Snowden is regarded as a criminal and enemy of the U.S. government, because of his leaks of classified documents. Because of this standing, he has gained a degree of support and admiration from others around the world, especially some of the scholars at the conference. His impact on an international discussion of government power, surveillance, whistleblowing, journalism sourcing and other issues, however, cannot be questioned.

In addition to presenting a paper and serving as a respondent to a slate of other papers, I spoke to two classes at the university.  Presenting lectures on American free press values and intellectual property law to international audiences is nothing new for me.  The questions from students were somewhat predicable and probing.  Snowden, too, came up in these sessions. And so did skepticism about the independence of American media.  These private businesses, owned by corporations, often publicly-traded for-profit corporations, and media conglomerates or individual modern press barons raised eyebrows for some students who are still unaccustomed to independent media.

Others openly refused to accept that the U.S. government does not control editorial or television content or own its own publications or television stations.  One student was adamant that American government websites were the equivalent of modern media.

This was a point that I must admit took me by surprise and presented another difficult explanation.  It also raised an interesting point that I had not entirely considered before.  I always considered government websites as sources of general information more akin to a telephone book or directory or something utilitarian. Perhaps, I take government websites for granted and do not pay them enough consideration.  Then again, how often does anyone pay much attention to a telephone directory? When was the last time anyone actually used a telephone book?

Even if a government website is a form of propaganda, I tried to explain, the independent media can use the content, check the content and question the content.  Still, a handful of students remained convinced that government websites were media akin to newspapers, magazines, television stations or independent websites.

To the students questioning me in Russia, government websites present information, editorial content and ostensibly propaganda. The distinction between media and a government website to the questioners was indistinguishable, which opened up my eyes to a different way of thinking. My eyes are more open thanks to some students in Russia.

Roy S. Gutterman is an associate professor of communications law and journalism and director of the Tully Center for Free Speech at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.



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Guardian Editor-in-Chief, Alan Rusbridger Receives Tully Free Speech Award





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Guardian editor in chief Alan Rusbridger to receive free speech award from Newhouse’s Tully Center Oct. 1


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Former Washington Editor, Harry Rosenfeld, captivates crowd.

Mr. Rosenfeld tells stories from his time at the Washington Post

Mr. Rosenfeld tells stories from his time at the Washington Post

Student chats with Mr. Rosenfeld while getting his copy of "From Kristallnacht to Watergate" signed

Student chats with Mr. Rosenfeld while getting his copy of “From Kristallnacht to Watergate” signed

Tull Center Director, Roy Gutterman, presents Mr. Rosenfeld with gifts.

Tull Center Director, Roy Gutterman, presents Mr. Rosenfeld with gifts.

The students were very interested in Mr. Rosenfeld's advice for news writing.

The students were very interested in Mr. Rosenfeld’s advice for news writing.

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Conversation and Book Signing with Former Washington Post Editor Harry Rosenfeld


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Harassing the Press in Missouri

Recent police action in Missouri is an affront to journalists and the First Amendment.

Reporters for The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, who were covering the shooting of a teenager and subsequent civil unrest and riots in Ferguson, Missouri, were arrested and otherwise harassed by local police. This “side spectacle” shows that during tragedies and major news events, like riots, the press is at risk.

Published accounts by the reporters do not indicate that they were obstructing or otherwise hindering police investigations or police efforts to suppress the riot. These were legitimate members of the institutional press, not advocates or participants in any political movement. They were journalists. Though the reporters were released without charges, this type of incident nevertheless poses a significant threat to journalists who are on the front lines, whether covering riots here in the United States or wars abroad.

In a country with strong protections under the First Amendment, reporters should not be harassed, no matter how emotionally-charged events may be. The facts about what happened in Ferguson are still being sorted out, and the investigation will likely require intervention by state and federal authorities. But this is a story of national import and the riots are a major component of the story, and should be covered. The press will assume a vital and independent role in telling this story, keeping the public informed and keeping all sides accountable. The press has to be allowed to do its job.

After weighing in on the tragedy and the riots, President Obama concluded, “Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground.”

Let’s hope law enforcement takes a look at the First Amendment next time.

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Decision: Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus

Two political action groups challenging an Ohio law that imposes criminal sanctions for false political campaign statements have legal standing to challenge that law, the United States Supreme Court ruled Monday.

Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas believed that the groups had sufficient fear of injury to merit the declaratory action filed in federal court in Ohio in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus.  The petitioners had gone to federal court to determine whether the law was valid under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The law allows “any person” to bring a complaint before the Ohio Elections Commission regarding “a false statement concerning the voting record of a candidate or public official.”  In short, false statements made during a political campaign could expose a speaker to criminal liability.  Though a first offense was a misdemeanor, it was punishable with up to six months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine. A second conviction was a fourth-degree felony.

Even if the speech might be false, it was a steep price to pay for political speech, largely considered the most hallowed – and protected – form of speech.

Though eschewing much of the law’s First Amendment and broad free speech implications, the court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  So, it will likely not be the last word on the case.

The opinion focuses almost entirely on the constitutional principles of ripeness and standing (whether the petitioners had valid reasons to bring the case). The court analyzed whether the petitioners had real or “imaginary” fear of punishment while exercising their First Amendment rights. Further, the court noted that others intent on expressing opinions on political matters could also face sanctions. The court ruled that the “petitioners have alleged a credible threat of enforcement.”

Because the law targeted and in many ways punished political speech, the court believed there was a viable constitutional interest.

“The Ohio false statement law sweeps broadly and covers the subject matter of petitioners’ intended speech,” the court wrote.

The potential for future application of the Ohio law, coupled with the nature of the law itself, which could allow “a universe of potential complainants,” raised questions.   The Court noted that the Ohio Elections Commission, which administered the law, handles between 20 and 80 false statement complaints every year.

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