Friday, November 16, 2012

Lebovic Wins Murphy Prize

At its meeting in November 2011, the Board of the ASLH voted to offer two one-time awards of $5,000 in honor of the constitutional historian Paul L. Murphy (1923–1997)  in support of the completion of books on civil liberties in American history.  This year's prize went to Sam Lebovic, who completed a Ph.D. in History at the University of Chicago and is currently a fellow at the Center for Cultural Analysis, Rutgers University.  Here, courtesy of H-Law, is the citation:
The Paul Murphy Prize for 2012 is awarded to Sam Lebovic for his book project "Beyond the First Amendment: The Problem of Press Freedom in the American Century." Lebovic's project is exciting and original.  In this legal, political and cultural history of press freedom and the First Amendment in the United States from 1919 to the 1970s, Lebovic argues that press freedom encompassed more than the freedom to speak and publish. Going well beyond the history of litigants, courts and caselaw, he recovers a version of freedom of the press based on the public's right to know, and pursued by journalists, politicians, lawyers and philosophers. The free-flow of information was jeopardized by the rise of totalitarianism, the power of corporate media, and the growth of the national security state. In the context of a Cold War focus on secrecy, a New Deal-era effort to limit consolidation of the media and to promote a broad public right to know was "debated, contested, and ultimately defeated," leaving the more prevalent concept of freedom of speech as protecting only an individual right of expression. Lebovic's approach is multi-layered and ambitious, historicizing the right to information and conceptions of free speech in the context of a changing political culture.  He ranges from the labor politics of the news media in the 1930s, to the national security classification system, to the centralization of the news industry, and many of the topics and sources in this work are very important and understudied. The result promises to be a brilliant reconfiguration of press freedom.