Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Samantha Barbas's "Newsworthy"

Samantha Barbas is Professor of Law at University at Buffalo Law School. She is the author of Movie Crazy: Fans, Stars, and the Cult of Celebrity (2001), The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons (2005), and Laws of Image.

Barbas applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Newsworthy: The Supreme Court Battle over Privacy and Press Freedom, and reported the following:
The Page 99 test doesn’t work well with Newsworthy: The Supreme Court Battle Over Privacy and Press Freedom – but if a browser’s eye were to travel over to page 98, he or she might see a paragraph that does capture one of the themes of the book.

Newsworthy is about an important Supreme Court case, Time, Inc. v. Hill, the first in which the Supreme Court considered the right to privacy versus freedom of the press. The case involved a family of seven, the James Hill family. The Hills were held hostage in their home by escaped convicts in 1952. They were badly shaken by the incident, but otherwise unharmed. The following year, an author wrote a “true crime” novel based loosely on the incident, titled The Desperate Hours, which was later made into a play and a film. In the novel, the family attempted a daring rescue; they were physically abused and the daughter raped.

In 1955, Life, the country’s most popular magazine, with 5 million readers, ran an article saying that the play was an exact account of what happened to the Hills, mentioning them by name and printing a picture of their home. The Hills were outraged by this false, invasive story, which thrust them into the spotlight and forced them to relive the hostage incident. They sued Time, Inc., Life’s publisher, for invasion of privacy, and the case went up to the Supreme Court. The family was represented by Richard Nixon, a practicing lawyer at the time.

You’ll have to read the book if you want to find out what the Court ruled.

Elizabeth Hill, the mother, was devastated by the publicity. Everywhere she went, she felt like people were whispering about her, assuming she was the mother in The Desperate Hours. She descended into severe depression. On page 98, I write:
Elizabeth’s psychiatrist, Stanley Dean, became alarmed by her worsening mood. Concluding that her mental condition was so dire that it constituted a “psychiatric emergency” and that “no time was to be lost,” he prescribed a course of electric shock treatments. .. She improved a little, and Dean put her on a schedule of medications--“a blue, hard-shaped pill…a little round orange pill…a blue and white capsule,” in Elizabeth’s words. This rainbow regime did little. According to Dean, Elizabeth was “quite resistant to treatment in general.” “It became apparent to me as time went on that I was dealing with a chronic, recurrent, persistent illness.”
Newsworthy is about a groundbreaking Supreme Court decision, and also about the importance of privacy and how unwanted, invasive publicity in the media can devastate ordinary people.​
Learn more about Newsworthy at the Stanford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Laws of Image.

--Marshal Zeringue