Professor Brian Murchison, the Charles S. Rowe Professor of Law, recently spoke at the Washington and Lee Institute for Honor, which took place on March 2-3 and brought together journalists, professors, students, alumni, and other interested persons for a program entitled “The New Conversation: How Are the News Media Shaping Our Political Beliefs?”
The title of Murchison’s talk was “New Media, Old Media, and Media In Between: Variations in First Amendment Disputes.” Examining the current media landscape, Murchison contrasted illustrative legal disputes affecting the traditional print and broadcast media (“old media”), avenues of expression on the internet (“new media”), and developing media such as 24/7 cable programming and talk radio. As an example of a current case involving old media, Murchison discussed federal prosecutors’ efforts to obtain the testimony of New York Times reporter James Risen in a criminal case brought against an ex-CIA employee, Jeffrey Sterling, accused of unauthorized disclosure of national security information. The case exemplified the professional norms of old media, including investigative reporting and reliance on confidential sources of information. Turning to transitioning media, Murchison discussed libel actions brought against a Fox morning show and against liberal talk show host Randi Rhodes. In both, the courts commented on the hyperbolic nature of speech on various cable and radio programs and found the challenged expression protected by the First Amendment. Finally, in discussing cases typical of the new media, Murchison explored cases brought against bloggers and website commentators who post sometimes harsh opinions and wish to remain anonymous. Murchison outlined the protections afforded them by the First Amendment, protections that are not without limits.