Taking Aim at Press Freedoms

Don Blankenship was convicted of conspiracy related to a deadly mine explosion. He was sentenced to one year in prison, a day less than a felony sentence. He served his sentence in a prison where he was the only inmate in for a misdemeanor.

A rich man, Don ran for the U.S. Senate when he got out of prison. Numerous media, in error, reported he was a convicted felon. Blankenship sued the media for defamation claiming his reputation was irreparably damaged. The lower courts dismissed his suit on the basis of New York Times v. Sullivan.

Blankenship petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States to hear his case and toss or modify Sullivan, asserting that Sullivan, “grant[s] the press a license to publish defamatory falsehoods that misinform[s] voters … and incite[s] unrest.” Maybe, but the requirement for that license under Sullivan is strenuous.

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