PRESS FREEDOM AND THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE: PRE-TRIAL PUBLICITY AND DEFENDANTS' RIGHTS
THE THREE major contempt decisions of the 1940s-Bridges, Pennekamp, and Craig--greatly expanded the freedom of the press to report and comment on matters before the courts; but the contempt charges in these cases did not involve the jeopardizing of an individual's right to a fair trial.
A cornerstone of our form of justice is that any defendant is entitled to a "fair and public trial." A free press helps protect that right by its scrutiny of events before and during the trial. But an overzealous press, by irresponsible coverage of a particularly sensational criminal case, can create an atmosphere in which a defendant is unable to receive a fair hearing: it becomes difficult to select a jury which has not already made up its mind as to the defendant's guilt or innocence. This has been called "trial by newspaper."
The issue of "trial by newspaper"--more properly "trial by mass media," since television has now become a major medium in news dissemination--was brought dramatically to public attention by the media coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. In its report the Warren Commmission was critical of both the Dallas police and the news media for their handling of the news of that tragic event. The American Bar Association declared in December, 1963, that "wide-