Academic journal article Journalism History

How Free Can the Press Be?

Academic journal article Journalism History

How Free Can the Press Be?

Article excerpt

Bezanson, Randall P. How Free Can the Press Be? Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2003. 258 pp. $34.95.

Anyone who studies or teaches law knows that what makes it interesting is not the dry detail of statutes and case law but the humanity behind it. Law is human drama played out on a legal stage. Randall Bezanson, a professor of law at the University of Iowa, spotlights that stage in his new book How Free Can the Press Be?

His book analyzes nine cases related to such areas as freedom from prior restraint, editorial judgment, news selection, privacy, and newsgathering practices. In these cases, he delves deeply into the circumstances surrounding the cases, the legal arguments made before the courts that decided them, and, particularly in the cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, the personalities of the judges and lawyers involved. Clearly nine cases will not provide a thorough education in press law, but that is not what Bezanson is trying to do. His purpose is to explore the various ways in which press law can be subject to interpretation.

His approach to press law is guided by his vocation. Like most law professors, Bezanson relies heavily on the Socratic method Each chapter is peppered with probing questions intended "to reveal the various ways of thinking about the questions and the competing arguments that can be made." As an extension of this goal, he focuses his analysis largely on the strategy of the legal argument. As someone accustomed to teaching future lawyers rather than future journalists, he is clearly intrigued by the choices that attorneys make in their legal arguments-what worked, what did not, and why.

While Bezanson's undertaking should not be reduced to a focus on game strategy, his insightful analysis of it is probably what will interest professors and students of communication most. Media law classes spend most of their time focusing on the principles to be drawn from published court decisions and the patterns that evolve over time, without much contemplation of legal arguments that may have failed because they were argued weakly. …

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