The First Amendment is having a moment. It earned a C+ on a recent report card from the Newseum Institute. It’s the beating heart behind The Post, about the publication of the Pentagon Papers. And it’s the through-line that connects countless controversies around the country: Trump’s cease-and-desist letter to Michael Wolff to try to halt the release of his book, a religious man’s refusal to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, kneeling during the national anthem, and so on.

Given all that, you’d think Americans would know more about the First Amendment. Yet a recent survey showed that 37 percent of those polled couldn’t name one of its five freedoms, while 39 percent said Congress should be able to prevent the press from reporting on national-security issues without government approval.

Journalists are not immune to misunderstandings of the First Amendment, despite their self-evident interests in the functionality and well-being of a free press (and, indeed, their long and important efforts to protect speech and press freedoms). This comes up occasionally at First Amendment conferences, and it’s understandable to a large extent because this area, as a legal specialty, is home to more than a few puzzling cases.

“The time it takes to prevail in a defamation lawsuit, in light of the strong First Amendment protections for journalism, surprises most reporters. Even long-time veterans,” said Charles Tobin, media lawyer at Ballard Spahr.

Added Lee Levine, another media lawyer at Ballard Spahr, “The truth is that although the Supreme Court has not closed the door on a First Amendment-based right of journalists to protect their confidential sources’ identities, it has yet to embrace such a right in so many words.”

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