Actual Malice: Civil Rights and Freedom of the Press in New York Times v. Sullivan

The University of California Press has announced the publication of Samantha Barbas' latest book, Actual Malice: Civil Rights and Freedom of the Press in New York Times v. Sullivan (2023). The book is a deeply researched legal drama that documents this landmark First Amendment ruling—one that is more critical and controversial than ever.  Publisher's website.

About the book

Actual Malice tells the full story of New York Times v. Sullivan, the dramatic case that grew out of segregationists' attempts to quash reporting on the civil rights movement. In its landmark 1964 decision, the Supreme Court held that a public official must prove "actual malice" or reckless disregard of the truth to win a libel lawsuit, providing critical protections for free speech and freedom of the press.

Drawing on previously unexplored sources, including the archives of the New York Times Company and civil rights leaders, Samantha Barbas tracks the saga behind one of the most important First Amendment rulings in history. She situates the case within the turbulent 1960s and the history of the press, alongside striking portraits of the lawyers, officials, judges, activists, editors, and journalists who brought and defended the case. As the Sullivan doctrine faces growing controversy, Actual Malice reminds us of the stakes of the case that shaped American reporting and public discourse as we know it.


"This timely and compelling history underscores the critical, enduring importance of New York Times v. Sullivan for not only freedom of expression but also racial justice and other equal rights movements."
—Nadine Strossen, author of Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship and past National President, American Civil Liberties Union

"New York Times v. Sullivan is the most important Supreme Court decision about freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Samantha Barbas's terrific, riveting book shows that it also must be understood as a crucial decision about civil rights at a crucial moment of the civil rights movement."
—Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law

The Dark Side of Defamation Law, New Yorker Book Review:   A new book, “Actual Malice” (California), by Samantha Barbas, a law professor and historian, unfurls the story of the case and reminds readers that the triumph of press freedom was an outgrowth of the civil-rights struggle. The review appears in the May, 22, 2023 issue of the New Yorker.