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Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn

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Brief Fact Summary. A reporter disclosed the name of a murdered rape victim against the deceased’s family’s wishes.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. There is no liability associated with public disclosure of private facts when the information was lawfully obtained from public records and is truthfully reported.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

We are reluctant to embark on a course that would make public records generally available to the media but forbid their publication if offensive to the sensibilities of the supposed reasonable man.

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Facts. Cohn’s daughter was raped and killed in a brutal attack by six assailants. Five of the Defendants plead guilty to rape and one plead not guilty. As a result, the case was set to go to trial. A reporter for Cox Broadcasting (Petitioner) learned the name of the victim from the grand jury indictments filed with the court. He chose to broadcast the victim’s name on the local news as part of his report on the case. Cohn (Respondent) subsequently sued for invasion of privacy.

Issue. Is it unconstitutional to hold a member of the press liable for the public disclosure of private facts?

Held. No. Public records are available for inspection by the media, and they are free to publish the facts gathered as a result of their research.

Discussion. Court proceedings are public record. The public relies on the media to inform them and research what the individual does not have time to do. It would be contradictory to allow the media to review public records but not report the information because it is about private persons.

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