Originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of California Publisher.

By Jason M. Shepard

The U.S. Department of Justice under President Joe Biden announced new legal protections for journalists and their confidential sources, signaling a major shift to protect press freedom after years of aggressive leak investigations under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

The move comes after disclosures that the DOJ under Trump secretly subpoenaed phone and email records of at least eight journalists from the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN, in an attempt to identify their sources of sensitive information.

Following those disclosures in May…


Originally published in Spring 2021 issue of California Publisher.

By Jason Shepard

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether a school district violated a cheerleader’s First Amendment rights when it suspended her for venting on Snapchat about not making the varsity team.

In doing so, the Court could create new rules for student free speech and press rights in the digital era.

First Amendment advocates fear the Court may further chip away at expression rights of students.

School officials, meanwhile, are hopeful the Court will give them wider latitude to punish students for expression that may undermine educational values.


Originally published in California Publisher, Winter 2021.

By Jason Shepard

Donald Trump’s presidency ended in January days after his supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden as his successor, resulting in Trump’s second impeachment and his permanent ban from Twitter and Facebook.

Trump’s legacy on First Amendment freedoms was the subject of my last column. The scope swept wide, but history will judge it incomplete after the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.

Get me rewrite!

On Nov. 3, 2020, Biden beat Trump by an electoral college vote of 306 to 232. …


Jackson A. Lanier, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Originally published in California Publisher, Fall 2020.

By Jason M. Shepard

Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump regularly attacked the foundations and precedents of the First Amendment.

He sued news organizations for libel, tried to stop the publication of books critical of him, and called for the firing and jailing of dissenters.

But paradoxically, the First Amendment was a crucial weapon for Trump and his supporters, giving them freedom to brew conspiracy theories and peddle falsehoods. Social media and partisan news outlets provided echo chambers that increased polarization and extremism, and sometimes even fueled hate and violence.

“I love the First…


Originally published in California Publisher, Summer 2020.

By Jason Shepard

New legal battles lie ahead as social media companies face a backlash for blocking disinformation, hate speech, threats and violence that proliferate on their networks.

President Donald Trump is calling for new regulations to limit content moderation by social media companies. He and others accuse the tech giants of having anti-conservative bias.

“Online platforms are engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse,” Trump said in an executive order he signed in May titled “Preventing Online Censorship.”

“The growth of online platforms in recent years raises important questions…


Originally published in California Publisher, Spring 2020.

by Jason Shepard

Two legal battles over local reporting in California are a reminder that basic press freedoms can’t be taken for granted, especially as local news faces existential threats to its survival.

In San Francisco, freelance reporter Bryan Carmody had his home and office raided by local police and the FBI after he sold stories about the death of the city’s elected public defender. The raid was a breathtaking end-run around legal protections for journalists and their confidential sources.

And in Orange County, bloggers Joshua Ferguson and David Curlee are facing a…


Originally published in California Publisher, Winter 2020.

by Jason Shepard

Disinformation is likely to play a central role in the 2020 presidential election, and California lawmakers are trying to combat falsehoods with new laws that prohibit distribution of so-called deepfake videos.

Deepfakes, a word added to the Collins Dictionary in 2019, are digitally altered videos depicting real people doing and saying things they did not do.

“Deepfakes distort the truth, making it difficult to distinguish between legitimate and fake media and more likely that people will accept content that aligns with their views,“ wrote Representative Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), who…


Originally published in Fall 2019 edition of California Publisher

By Jason Shepard

Even before California’s new digital privacy law takes effect on Jan. 1, privacy advocates are pushing for a 2020 ballot initiative for even tougher protections while federal legislation stalls in Congress.

The California Consumer Privacy Act, passed in 2018 and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, is the nation’s most stringent digital privacy law.

Silicon Valley-based technology companies are uncertain how the new laws will affect their business models, but it is expected to have oversized effect because most U.S. tech companies are based in California.

California’s law contains…


The Fullerton Police Department released body camera footage of an officer involved shooting in June 2019. (Screenshot from Fullerton Police video).

Originally published in California Publisher, Summer 2019

By Jason M. Shepard

Many California law enforcement agencies are dragging their feet in complying with a new state law mandating disclosure of police misconduct records, according to journalists.

The California Reporting Project, an impressive consortium of 33 news organizations is evaluating agency compliance with the new law, known as Senate Bill 1421.

Some agencies complied with information requests. But many agencies haven’t turned over a single record. Others admit to destroying documents. Some agencies are charging journalists thousands of dollars before they begin a document review. …


Alex Jones, host of Info Wars, is being sued for libel by families of the children killed at the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. (Photo by Michael Zimmermann/Creative Commons license).

Originally published in Spring 2019 edition of California Publisher

By Jason Shepard

For years, rightwing provocateur Alex Jones has peddled a bizarre conspiracy theory that the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school was “staged,” an “inside job,” a “giant hoax,” and a “false flag.”

Now, four libel lawsuits in Connecticut and Texas threaten Jones’s media empire.

At a time when “fake news” and “alternative facts” define a “post-truth” era, what are the limits for libelous lies in today’s marketplace of ideas?

On Dec. 14, 2012, a troubled, 20-year-old man killed his mother at their home in Newtown, Conn…

Jason M. Shepard, Ph.D.

Media law prof and COMM dept chair @CSUF. Into: #FirstAmendment #journalism #socialmedia #politics. Past: @CapTimes @isthmus @TeachForAmerica @UWMadison PhD.

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