How the Civil Rights Movement Expanded Freedom of the Press

U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court

How Civil Rights Movement Expanded Freedom of the Press

A libel case arising from the civil rights movement is responsible for a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that expanded guarantees of freedom of the press, a New York Times editorial reminded readers on Sunday.


"How is society to preserve open criticism of the government, while also protecting individuals from libel, or the publication of damaging false statements?" the Times asked.

"Fifty years ago this Sunday, the Supreme Court answered that question with a landmark decision in New York Times v. Sullivan. The ruling instantly changed libel law in the United States, and it still represents the clearest and most forceful defense of press freedom in American history.

"The case involved an ad that had appeared in The Times in 1960, condemning 'an unprecedented wave of terror' against civil-rights demonstrators by 'Southern violators,' particularly in Alabama. The ad was a plea for national attention, and for donations to support the movement. L. B. Sullivan, a Montgomery city commissioner, sued The Times for libel, claiming that the ad clearly targeted him, even if not by name, and that it contained numerous factual errors. Applying plaintiff-friendly libel laws, an Alabama state court awarded him $500,000.

"The Supreme Court voted unanimously to overturn that verdict. The country's founders believed, Justice William Brennan Jr. wrote, quoting an earlier decision, 'that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.' Such discussion, he added, must be 'uninhibited, robust, and wide-open,' and 'may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.'

"To the court, the civil-rights context was key: The ad was 'an expression of grievance and protest on one of the major public issues of our time,' and Alabama officials could not shut down that criticism, even though it contained minor errors. 'Erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate,' Justice Brennan reasoned, and 'must be protected if the freedoms of expression are to have the breathing space that they need to survive.'

"With this in mind, the court announced a new 'actual malice' standard that requires a public official to prove that the defendant knew the statement was false, or recklessly disregarded its truth or falsity. (Private citizens rightly have a lower hurdle to clear; generally, they need only show that a falsehood is the result of negligence.)


"The ruling was revolutionary, because the court for the first time rejected virtually any attempt to squelch criticism of public officials — even if false — as antithetical to 'the central meaning of the First Amendment.' Today, our understanding of freedom of the press comes in large part from the Sullivan case. Its core observations and principles remain unchallenged, even as the Internet has turned everyone into a worldwide publisher — capable of calling public officials instantly to account for their actions, and also of ruining reputations with the click of a mouse. . . ."

Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Root: What Was the 1st Black American Newspaper?

Ex-Vibe Editor Out at Essence

Emil Wilbekin's Exit Confirmed After Companywide Layoffs

Emil Wilbekin, the former editor of Vibe magazine who has been a major figure at Essence magazine since 2009, is no longer at the publication, Essence spokesman Dana Baxter told Journal-isms on Monday.


Rumors of Wilbekin's departure had been circulating since early February, when a massive restructuring took place at Time Inc. However, Baxter would say only that "Essence had some staff switches and fortunately we are only down a couple of headcount."

After confirming Wilbekin's departure Monday, Baxter said by email, "I have no further comment," declining to name the other staffers affected, to mention Wilbekin's contributions to the magazine or to say how his duties would be reassigned.


Wilbekin, 45, likewise did not respond to requests for comment. However, on his own website, he described his duties.

"Emil Wilbekin is Editor-at-Large at ESSENCE Magazine. In this role, he is responsible for executing covers for ESSENCE. In addition, he manages talent relations and develops 360º activations across the brand — connecting print, digital and live events.


"Previously, Emil served as Managing Editor of, where he was responsible for the development of original daily programming for the site. He also led the editorial team and worked on the development of the site's unique offerings, which include videos, an online community, social media, tools and applications.

"Prior to joining ESSENCE, Wilbekin had been the Editor-in-Chief, GIANT and Wilbekin also served as a consultant on Microsoft’s official [LeBron] James website. In addition, Wilbekin was previously a reporter for AOL Black Voices, and the VP of Brand Development for Marc Ecko.


"Wilbekin began his career as one of the founding editors of Vibe magazine, where he also served as the Style Editor, Fashion Director and Editor-in-Chief. Under Wilbekin’s leadership, Vibe won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. He also served as the VP of Brand Development for Vibe Ventures, where he oversaw, mobile, books, and Vibe TV, and executive produced the Vibe Awards. . . ."

On his Twitter account, Wilbekin describes himself this way: "I am a Renaissance Man. Fashion, music, film, literature, digital media, travel, design, books, magazines, community and lifestyle are my passion. Love life…"


He shared the editor-at-large title with Mikki Taylor. Wilbekin told Cinya Burton of E! Magazine in November, "A typical day for me is filled with meetings, lots of emails, and phone calls. I have to go out to industry events, business dinners and galas almost every night of the week, so my days are long.. . . I get to go to movie premieres, concerts and parties for work. Hanging out with celebrities every night is not the worst thing in the world!"

Essence also stages events designed to buttress the magazine's brand and require the work of staffers such as Wilbekin.


Last month, Essence joined with producer Tyler Perry to celebrate "Black Men in Hollywood" during Oscar week, along with its annual "Black Women in Hollywood" luncheon honoring women behind and in front of the camera.

Time Warner is preparing to spin off Time Inc., Essence's parent company, in an initial public offering. On Feb. 4, "CEO Joe Ripp announced that the company is cutting jobs and eliminating its current brand grouping structure. The changes also come with a shakeup to its executive leadership team," Michael Rondon reported then for Folio: magazine.


Essence has undergone similar reductions in previous Time restructurings.

In a 2010 interview with Janelle Harris for Mediabistro, Wilbekin was asked, "What do think is missing in Black media? Describe one magazine or website that has yet to be written that you think needs to be a part of the canon."


He replied, "It would be nice to have more: more magazines, more websites, more television networks. I think that sometimes we live in a 'crabs in a barrel' syndrome in that we think we can only have one Black magazine and one Black website and one Black TV network. But Black people — and African-Americans specifically — are very diverse. It would be great to have more to cover the vastness of African-Americans and Black people around the world. I still wonder, specifically in the age of Obama, why we don't have a Black Vanity Fair."

Aaron McGruder's Latest, "Black Jesus," Picked Up for TV

Aaron McGruder, who jolted the newspaper comic-strip world with "The Boondocks" in 1999, then declared himself "sick of the strip and sick of politics" and transformed the strip into a television cartoon, now plans a television comedy series called "Black Jesus."


"The new half-hour live-action scripted comedy finds Jesus living in present-day Compton, Calif., on a daily mission to spread love and kindness throughout the neighborhood with the help of his small but loyal group of downtrodden followers," Lesley Goldberg reported Monday for the Hollywood Reporter.

"Newcomer Gerald 'Slink' Johnson (Grand Theft Auto V) stars as Black Jesus. Charlie Murphy (Are We There Yet?), Corey Holcomb (The Cleveland Show), Kali Hawk (Couples Retreat), Andra Fuller (L.A. Complex) and The Boondocks' John Witherspoon round out the cast.


The Turner-owned Adult Swim network, which aired "The Boondocks," has picked up the series, Goldberg reported.

Eventually published in 350 newspapers, "The Boondocks" became a cable cartoon with a cult-like following in 2005, Amber Mobley reported for the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, now the Tampa Bay Times, in 2006.


"Turning the comic strip into a cartoon, said McGruder, has allowed him 'a wonderful amount of creative freedom' as well as access to a younger audience.

"It's an audience that 'gets it' more than 'your average newspaper reader (who) is a 50-year-old white man.' " McGruder told Mobley then.


Journalists Facing Harassment, Intimidation in Crimea

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) on Monday "reiterated their appeal for all sides involved in the political unrest in Ukraine to respect the rights and freedom of journalists.


"The IFJ/EFJ call follows reports that journalists are facing increasing harassment and intimidation in Crimea as political unrest continues, with news emerging that unidentified men are attacking journalists, brandishing guns and snatching cameras," a statement said.

"In response to the escalation in violence, the IFJ/EFJ are holding a meeting in Brussels on 17 March that will bring together representatives from the journalists union in Russia (RUJ) and Ukraine (NUJU and IMTUU) to discuss further measures to support journalists to uphold professional ethical standards and safety.


"According to reports, on 5 March a journalist from 'News of the Week — Crimea' was attacked as he filmed a peaceful protest by a group of women in Crimea's capital, Simferopol, and on 6 March a journalist from was threatened when she and a colleague visited the border ferry crossing.

"In another chilling incident, a security camera in Simferopol captured the image of a Bulgarian freelance journalist and his assistant being attacked as they filmed masked men removing equipment from a television company. A gun was held to one of the men's heads and their equipment was taken. . . ."


CNN Political Unit: CNN Poll: 59% approve of sanctions against Russia

Josh Feldman, Mediaite: CNN Reporter in Ukraine: We Were Told 'Stop Broadcasting or We’ll Kick You Out'


Roy Greenslade, blog, the Guardian, Britain: Ukrainian TV companies unite and write open letter to Russian media

Kristin Hare, Poynter Institute: Freelance journalist held at gunpoint in Crimea

Ruben Rosario, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.: Former colleague has eye on Putin, from Ukraine


Derek Stoffel, CBC News: Ukraine crisis: CBC crew stopped, followed in Crimea

Isaac Webb, Kyiv Post: Freedom of speech under siege in Crimea

Erik Wemple, Washington Post: CNN's Cooper: ‘Not seeing a lot of other anchors around here'


Juan Williams Defends Armstrong Williams' Right to Stations

Juan Williams, the Fox News commentator and veteran journalists, has gone to bat for his friend Armstrong Williams, no relation, in an op-ed piece that appeared in the Monday print edition of the Wall Street Journal.


"How many black people own a broadcast television station in the United States? The answer is one: Armstrong Williams," Juan Williams wrote. "I know this because he's a friend."

"So imagine my surprise when I heard that the Federal Communications Commission is currently considering pulling the financial rug from under him by changing its regulations to — get this — promote diversity.


"The reason for the proposed rules shift is that Mr. Williams's two television stations operate under a so-called sidecar agreement with a larger broadcast company. Sinclair Broadcasting . . . the larger, white-owned firm, leverages its clout in the market to get better deals from advertisers for the two stations in return for a percentage of Mr. Williams' revenues.

"This arrangement is not a token deal. Similar agreements are common in the television industry. The difference is that typically all the players are white. Nevertheless, the FCC is proposing new restrictions that would make it harder for broadcast companies to control two stations operating in the same market. . . ."


There have been differing reports on the number of black-owned television stations, but all agree that the figure is infinitesimal.

The activist group Free Press announced in December, "There are now zero black-owned and operated full-power TV stations in our country." However, that statement excluded Williams' stations as well as noncommercial stations such as WHUT-TV in Washington, owned by Howard University, and  WUFX-TV in Jackson, Miss., owned by Tougaloo College.


Later, Free Press amended its statement to include WJYS-TV in the Chicago market.

Last week, Bob Butler, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, came out against joint-services agreements noting that in some cases, newsrooms are combined. Butler wrote, "When there are fewer newsrooms, jobs are cut, normally leaving fewer opportunities for all journalists to find work. . . ."


However, Mike Cavender, executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Association, wrote separately that such arrangements might be financial necessities. "If some stations can't stand alone because of these restrictions, jobs may well be lost and news programming may well be diminished or even eliminated in some markets. . . ."

In January, Armstrong Williams told Journal-isms by telephone that he hopes the FCC realizes that "every arrangement is different" and that "when we make our presentation, the FCC will have no choice but to look at us individually and not all together."


In his case, the arrangement "really benefits minorities," Williams said. He said he had already produced 10 or 12 local programs in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and initiated a community discussion on domestic violence, which is scheduled for a town hall meeting on March 29. A Jan. 20 town hall discussed the Affordable Care Act.

John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable: Franken Says He is Against Comcast/TWC ‘Right Now’


John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable: Pai Pitches Diversity Value of JSAs

Are Entertainment Reporters Forgetting the Journalism?

"Say you were watching a post-Super Bowl news conference featuring the coach of the team that lost on the final drive. You'd expect someone to ask for his reaction, no?" Mark Caro asked Friday for the Chicago Tribune.


"Or say two players from the same team had snubbed each other on national TV. Reporters would ask each player what was up with that, right?

"Or say a key player had been drawn into a much-publicized scandal leading up to the big game. It's a no-brainer that someone would ask whether the scandal had any effect.


"So as I sat among hundreds of fellow reporters in the Oscars pressroom March 2, I wondered: Is the entertainment press, at least when operating on a mass scale in Hollywood, working at a level beneath that of sports journalists?

"In sports, after all, for every predictable question about how a slugger felt when he belted the winning home run, there's the counterbalancing question to the pitcher who served it up. 'No cheering in the press box' is a rule at sports events. There was plenty of cheering in the Oscars pressroom. . . ."


Caro also wrote, "No shortage of Oscar watchers noticed the chill between '12 Years a Slave' adapted screenplay winner John Ridley, who didn't acknowledge director-producer Steve McQueen in his acceptance speech, and McQueen, who likewise didn't mention Ridley when collecting the best picture Oscar. The apparent rift had been much discussed online by the time Ridley arrived backstage.

"So here's how the Q-and-A with Ridley opened:

"Q: I talked to you on the red carpet.

"A: Yes.

"Q: I told you you were going to win.

"A: You did.

"Q: I absolutely did. Congratulations.

"A: Thank you.

"Not all of the exchanges with Ridley lacked substance. . . ."

Mikol L. Clarke, The Root: Beyond 12 Years a Slave: 8 More Books We Want to See on the Big Screen


Monique Ruffin, HuffPost BlackVoices: My Final Thoughts on '12 Years a Slave'

Anne Thompson, Ridley Sets Record Straight on McQueen '12 Years' Rift, Talks 'Jimi: All Is By My Side'


Karen Valby, Entertainment Weekly: '12 Years a Slave' screenwriter John Ridley talks supposed beef with Steve McQueen

Short Takes

Yvonne Latty, director of the "Reporting New York" and "Reporting in the Nation" multimedia graduate programs at New York University’s Arthur Carter Journalism Institute, was named interim academic officer of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists by the NAHJ board, which met over the weekend, President Hugo Balta wrote Monday. Latty, who represented NAHJ on the board of Unity: Journalists for Diversity before NAHJ pulled out last year, succeeds Federico Subervi, who resigned, citing his schedule, Balta told Journal-isms.


"Freedom Communications is continuing its aggressive expansion with the launch of a new Spanish-language weekly newspaper for Southern California, Unidos en el Sur de California," Erik Sass reported Friday for MediaPost. "The new newspaper, scheduled to debut March 21, will combine the editorial staff and production and distribution resources of two existing Spanish-language papers owned by Freedom: the Excelsior in Orange County and La Prensa, serving the Los Angeles metro area. . . ."

"A Massachusetts judge has denied an effort by lawyers for the New York Post to secure a dismissal of the libel action filed against the paper last June by two young men who were identified as 'BAG MEN' on the cover during the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers," Erik Wemple reported Friday in the Washington Post. "The cover treatment was a classic tabloid play on words, considering reports that the bombers had carried explosive devices to the site of the marathon in backpacks or duffel bags. . . ."


Radio personality Tom Joyner was among more than 1,000 marchers joining the Rev. Al Sharpton; the parents of Jacksonville, Fla., teen Jordan Davis; and Miami Gardens, Fla., teen Trayvon Martin and others Monday calling for changes to Florida’s hotly contested Stand Your Ground law, according to reports by Michael H. Cottman for and Karl Etters for the Tallahassee Democrat.

"Florida A&M University (FAMU) Professor Lady Dhyana Ziegler, Ph.D., a knighted Dame of Justice by the Chivalric Order of the Knights of Justice, has been appointed the Garth C. Reeves Eminent Scholar Chair in the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication," WTXL in Tallahassee, Fla., reported on Friday. "She assumes the post in July. As the Garth C. Reeves Eminent Scholar Chair, Ziegler will assist with the development of a new master's degree program, represent the SJGC within professional organizations, as well as serving in her teaching and research capacities. . . ."


"Neil DeGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium and star of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, appeared on CNN's Reliable Sources Sunday to talk about the show and media treatment of science in general," Josh Feldman reported Monday for Mediaite. "Tyson spoke of the innate hypocrisy of people rejecting modern science while embracing the very best of scientific discovery 'that we so take for granted today,' and without it, 'we will just regress back into the cave.' " Host Brian Stelter "referenced his own recent commentary about how the media should not be giving equal time to anti-science views, and asked Tyson what he believes the media's responsibility on this issue should be. Tyson said the media shouldn't be in the business of giving 'equal time to the flat-earthers.' . . . "Cosmos" premiere reviewed.

"Icing on the cake. WFAA8 anchor Gloria Campos' last newscast also ranked as the most-watched television program — night or day — in all of D-FW Friday," Ed Bark wrote Saturday for his Uncle Barky's Bytes blog, referring to Dallas-Fort Worth. "Her goodbye to viewers on the 10 p.m. newscast drew 284,052 viewers, doubling the total of 142,026 for runner- up CBS11. . . ."


"Here we go again!" Julee Wilson reported Saturday for HuffPost BlackVoices. "Another magazine has decided that engaging in the racially insensitive act of Blackface is a glamorous idea. This time around the culprit is Vogue Italia. The glossy's March 2014 issue includes a feature entitled 'Abracadabra' that was shot by Steven Meisel and shows model Saskia de Brauw in a series of images with her skin darkened while posing in ethnic wears — headdresses, colorful wrappings, etc. . . ."

"When the Florida Department of Law Enforcement blasted a WFTV-Channel 9 report Thursday night in a detailed release, the station had no response," Hal Boedeker reported Friday for the Orlando Sentinel, discussing a report by Mario Boone. "That changed Friday morning, when the station mostly defended a report that alleged FDLE crime labs are drowning in backlogs on rape kits. . . . "


For International Women's Day, Alison Bethel McKenzie, who directs the Vienna-based International Press Institute, spoke with "the rock star of South African journalism" — Ferial Haffajee, editor-in-chief of City Press. Asked about challenges for female African journalists, Haffajee said, "In South Africa, these challenges relate to flexible working hours (journalism is not sociable and its culture militates against working mothers, studies have found); flexible work from home arrangements; a culture of networking at the bar or on the golf course; a macho newsroom culture. In other words, we have the same challenges as women journalists the world over. For the rest of Africa, in my work, I've come across issues including: a casting-couch approach to newsroom hires; patriarchal practices (especially in state-owned media); and low pay. All these can force women journalists out of the profession. . . ."

"The President of the Federation of Journalists of Peru (FPP), Mr. Ángel Sánchez Dueñas, demanded Friday an end to intimidation conducted by the Ambassador of Morocco in Lima against the Peruvian journalist Ricardo Sanchez-Serra, reported FPP in a statement," the Sahara Press Service reported on Sunday. " 'We have acquired confirmed information on the deplorable attitude of the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco, Oumama Aouad Lahrech, who maintains constant communication with various diplomatic and political authorities of the Peruvian state, religious leaders and representatives of embassies residing in our country, to discredit the Peruvian journalist Ricardo Sanchez-Serra, exercising [his] constitutional powers in the field of opinion of journalism,' according to the statement, a copy of it received by SPS. . . ."


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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education ( Reprinted on The Root by permission.