Press Criticism

Here’s an interesting column by Jack Shafer on press crticism through the years. It mentions Alexander Cockburn’s “Press Clips” column in The Village Voice — always a spicy read, to be sure, although for coverage of the New York City press, I preferred Geoffrey Stokes.

Few people realize that Nat Hentoff wrote the first regular column of press criticism in the Voice. As we report in the film, it started in 1958; it was originally called “Second Chorus,” and Hentoff carried on through most of the 1960s.

Here’s a Hentoff column from 1960 that excoriates The New York Times for retracting an advertisement that solicited funds for the legal defense of Martin Luther King Jr. because of a few inaccuracies.

Hentoff was one of the signatories on the ad.

Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — for the Times, its apparent cave-in didn’t work: The paper was sued for libel anyway, by L.B. Sullivan, the police commissioner in Montgomery, Alabama. The resulting decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Times v. Sullivan became a landmark in First Amendment law, setting a tough new standard for public officials to prove libel claims against the press.

The Times became a hero for the cause of freedom of the press. But not before Hentoff had his say.

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