Freedom of the Press: A Reference Guide to the United States Constitution

By Packard, Ashley | Journalism History, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Freedom of the Press: A Reference Guide to the United States Constitution


Packard, Ashley, Journalism History


Lidsky, Larissa Barnett and R. George Wright. Freedom of the Press: A Reference Guide to the United States Constitution. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 2004. 179 pp. $94.95.

Most legal scholarship is based on the case method, which involves an analysis of related cases to "discover" the principles and theories within a line of jurisprudence. Piecing the law together in this fashion is not easy, but there is something rewarding about understanding the law's development as part of a historical, human, and sometimes messy process. Many students, however, do not respond well to the case method and long for a more cogent synthesis of basic legal principles. In Freedom of the Press: A Reference Guide to the United States Constitution, Larissa Barnett Lidsky and R. George Wright attempt to provide that clarity of explanation.

These authors undoubtedly recognize the need for synthesis from their own experience. Lidsky is a professor of law at the University of Florida, where she teaches media law. Wright teaches constitutional law at Indiana University.

Their book is part of a series on the U.S. Constitution, which explains its awkward tide. But it is really more of an independent scholarly text than a desk reference. Its introductory chapters on First Amendment history and theory establish a foundation for later chapters, addressing central First Amendment issues, such as prior restraint, contentbased and content-neutral speech restrictions, defamation, invasion of privacy, and access to information.

Although Lidsky and Wright highlight landmark cases in appropriate chapters, they do not discuss cases in depth. Instead they concentrate on explaining basic rules that have emerged from important cases, in the context of a more general discussion on First Amendment jurisprudence. As such, the book may be useful to historians who want to learn more about First Amendment law without getting bogged down in legalese and case specifics. It also could serve as a supplementary text in media law classes that rely on a case method.

Chapters on theory, content-based and content-neutral speech restrictions, defamation, and invasion of privacy provide a comprehensive and cogent analysis of these topics. The authors' analysis of journalists' qualified privilege to protect sources, which integrates concepts of representation and cultural theory à la Stuart Hall, is particularly insightful and worthy of greater exploration.

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