When it comes to the First Amendment, Cohen v. Cowles Media Co. (1991) said a promissory estoppel suit cannot be enforced against a newspaper.
Now, here’s the facts of Cohen v. Cowles Media Co. Dan Cohen, the petitioner and a Republican campaign associate in the 1982 Minnesota gubernational race, gave dirt to the the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune on a Democrat candidate in the governor’s race. However, the editors of the newspaper decided to publish his name. That being said, Cohen was fired, which Cohen later sued the newspaper for breach of contract. However, Cohen took his case to court and won a state appeal. Nevertheless, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the state appeal judgement. Finally, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment’s free press guarantee prevented promissory estoppel from applying to the newspapers.
When it comes to this case, here’s the issue, which the Supreme Court addressed. Can Cohen use the first amendment and state promissory estoppel law to get damages, when newspapers gave up his name in a story?
The U.S Supreme Court ruled this way. The Court said the First Amendment does not give journalists an exemption from generally applicable laws.
This is a funny case. Basically, a Republican gave dirt on a Democrat. However. the Republican got nailed and exposed, so he turned around and tried to sue the newspapers for exposing him. Consequently, the Supreme Court said Cohen does not get an exemption from the law.
Furthermore, if the Supreme Court gave an exemption to Cohen, that would of opened the door for the press to break laws. The press would be able to break into places, because laws of general applicably do not apply when they use the press card. For example, the Nixon Republican operatives would of been off the hook when breaking into the DNC at the Watergate Hotel in an attempt to get dirt on the Democrats. This is why the press isn’t exempt from laws of general applicability.
Here’s the moral of this case. When giving a story, don’t give your name to a newspaper because they can always publish your name. This is the lesson from Cohen v. Cowles Media Co.
In brief, I liked this case because it was funny. Basically a member of a political party gave bogus information and got nailed. Cohen v. Cowles Media Co. is a hilarious case.