Historically, Americans have placed great importance on both their good name and their right to free speech. "As ingrained as both of these ideals are in the very fabric of our society, they sometimes run counter to each other." The Supreme Court has tried to balance these conflicting ideals in libel cases involving the first amendment's protection of freedom of the press. In the 1964 case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the Court held that the first amendment's constitutional privilege extends to those publishing defamatory statements concerning official conduct, and that a plaintiff in such a case could not recover absent a showing of "actual malice." In the ten years following the New York Times decision, the Court continued to expand the constitutional protection afforded the press. However, lower courts were besieged by a multitude of defamation cases, which has apparently caused the Supreme Court, in recent cases, to limit the constitutional protection afforded the press, resulting in greater protection for the individual.
Ann M. Annase & Scott A. Milburn,
Public Figures and Malice: Recent Supreme Court Decisions Restricting the Constitutional Privilege,
U. Rich. L. Rev.
Available at: http://scholarship.richmond.edu/lawreview/vol14/iss4/5