Bad News Travels Fast: The Telegraph, Libel, and Press Freedom in the Progressive Era

Bad News Travels Fast: The Telegraph, Libel, and Press Freedom in the Progressive Era

by Patrick C. File


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At the turn of the twentieth century, American journalists transmitted news across the country by telegraph. But what happened when these stories weren't true? In Bad News Travels Fast, Patrick C. File examines a series of libel cases by a handful of plaintiffs—including socialites, businessmen, and Annie Oakley—who sued newspapers across the country for republishing false newswire reports. Through these cases, File demonstrates how law and technology intertwined to influence debates about reputation, privacy, and the acceptable limits of journalism.

This largely forgotten era in the development of American libel law provides crucial historical context for contemporary debates about the news media, public discourse, and the role of a free press. File argues that the legal thinking surrounding these cases laid the groundwork for the more friendly libel standards the press now enjoys and helped to establish today's regulations of press freedom amid the promise and peril of high-speed communication technology.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781625343741
Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press
Publication date: 12/10/2018
Pages: 160
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Patrick C. File is an assistant professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Table of Contents

Preface vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 News in the Late Nineteenth Century: More and Faster 9

Chapter 2 Libel in the Nineteenth Century: Malice or Mistakes? 19

Chapter 3 The Smith and Rutherford Cases: The News as "A Wrong And Perilous System"? 35

Chapter 4 The Palmer Cases: The First Large-Scale Libel Syndicate 46

Chapter 5 The Oakley Cases: Libel and Celebrity 60

Chapter 6 Bad News and the Bad Tendency Test: The Limits of Libel Doctrine 71

Chapter 7 Retraction Statutes: An Alternate Route to Protection 82

Conclusion 98

Notes 105

Index 133

What People are Saying About This

Tim Gleason

An important contribution to our understanding of the development of First Amendment law, with particular relevance to current debates about the role of journalism and legal protections for the press.

Samantha Barbas

File's research is impressive, and Bad News Travels Fast makes an important contribution to understanding this 'forgotten period' of libel law.

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