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2014 John Breaux Symposium to explore the impact of New York Times v. Sullivan case on media and politics today

02/25/2014 02:00 PM

BATON ROUGE - A former Louisiana governor and the former general counsel of The New York Times will be among the participants at the annual John Breaux Symposium. This year’s Breaux Symposium marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in New York Times v. Sullivan. Media, law and government experts will gather March 5 and 6 to discuss the impact the decision had on media coverage of government and politics. This year’s symposium is co-sponsored by the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs, the LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center, and the Manship School’s Press Law & Democracy Project.

Former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and former New York Times general counsel James Goodale will be joined by panelists that will include LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center Chancellor Jack Weiss; law and ethics scholar Jane Kirtley, who directs the Silha Center for the Study of Law and Ethics at the University of Minnesota; media and politics scholar Regina Lawrence from the University of Texas; Jerry Ceppos, Manship School dean and former vice president of news at Knight Ridder; LSU Law’s Pike Hall Distinguished Professor Paul Finkelman; and Amy Reynolds, media law scholar and Reilly Center director.

“It’s important to critically examine the legacy of this landmark libel case,” said Reynolds. “The actual malice standard that the court established in Sullivan meant that a public official who sued the press for libel has to show that the press acted with reckless disregard for the truth or knew a statement was false prior to publication. This is a hard standard to meet and offers the press broad protection in coverage of public officials and issues of public importance.”

“This is an exciting collaboration between the Law Center and our friends at the Manship School of Mass Communication,” said LSU Law Center Chancellor Jack Weiss, a First-Amendment authority. “The Supreme Court’s 1964 decision in Sullivan was intended to have a powerful liberating effect on the news coverage of public affairs and public officials. Has it? Will it continue to do so? At what cost to other important values? The Breaux Symposium will provide a unique opportunity for lawyers and journalists to discuss these questions together.”

The symposium will begin at 5 p.m. on March 5 in the LSU Law Center’s McKernan Auditorium, with LSU Law Pike Hall Distinguished Professor Paul Finkelman discussing the origins of The New York Times v. Sullivan case and its roots in the civil rights movement. Finkelman, one of the nation’s leading legal historians, will also discuss how First-Amendment liberties are tied to the civil rights movement and how a different outcome in the Times case would have severely undermined the civil rights struggle in the South.

On Thursday, March 6, a series of panels will begin at 8:30 a.m. in the LSU Journalism Building’s Holliday Forum. Panel topics include: the importance of New York Times v. Sullivan; the impact of the case on media coverage of politics and government; and its impact of on the future of media. The panels will conclude by 1:30 p.m.

At 11:45 a.m., James Goodale, former general counsel of The New York Times and one of the paper’s attorneys in the Sullivan case, will speak about his book, “Fighting for the Press.” The book focuses on his experiences at the Times, particularly his involvement in the Pentagon Papers case and its current implications for the U.S. government’s reaction to recent disclosures of national security information. The Reilly Center will provide free copies of “Fighting for the Press” that Goodale will sign between 12:25 and 12:45 p.m.

The annual John Breaux Symposium was established in 2000 as a core program of the Manship School’s Reilly Center. Its goal is to explore areas where little or no research has been conducted and/or to approach ideas from a fresh perspective - in other words, to turn issues on their head. Underpinning the Manship School's focus on the study of media and politics, the Breaux Symposium's central question is: How well is the public being informed, and what must be done to increase citizen awareness and constructive debate?

For more information about the Breaux Symposium, the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs, or the Manship School, contact Emily Wascom at or (225) 578-7312.

LSU Media Relations