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2017 Constitution Day

Freedom of the Press: Constitutionally Enshrined Guardians of Democracy

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and WVU communications, journalism and law professors address the erosion of the First Amendment, fake news, and why a free press is necessary for a strong democracy.

The Panelists:

WVU Law Professor Robert Bastress

Robert Bastress is the John W. Fisher II Professor of Law and teaches Constitutional Law, West Virginia Constitutional Law, and Employment Discrimination. Prior to coming to WVU in 1978, he practiced law in Kentucky for the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund and was an Abraham Freedman Fellow at the Temple University School of Law in Philadelphia. Throughout his career, Bastress has engaged in extensive litigation dealing with constitutional, civil rights, and employment law issues. He is a Fellow of the West Virginia State Bar Foundation and a Fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers. Bastress is the author of The West Virginia Constitution (Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2016), and co-author of Interviewing, Counseling and Negotiating Skills for Effective Representation (Little Brown & Co., 1990). He earned his J.D. from Vanderbilt University and LL.M. from Temple University.

WVU Journalism Professor Alison Bass

Alison Bass , assistant professor of journalism, teaches investigative reporting and writing, multimedia journalism, and health and science journalism. Bass is an award-winning journalist and critically acclaimed author of Getting Screwed: Sex Workers and the Law (ForeEdge, 2015), and Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial (Algonquian Books, 2008). Bass was a long-time medical and science writer for The Boston Globe. Her work has also appeared in the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and on Public Radio International’s website. Before coming to WVU, Bass taught journalism at Mount Holyoke College, Brandeis University and Boston University. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Brandeis University and her Master of Liberal Arts degree from Harvard University Extension School.

WVU Communication Studies Professor Elizabeth Cohen

Elizabeth Cohen is an assistant professor in the WVU Department of Communication Studies. She researches the social and psychological impacts of different forms of media, such as television, social network sites, and video games. In addition to coauthoring two book chapters on how people process misinformation on social network sites, Cohen is conducting research to better understand how people respond to disagreeable political posts and fake news on Facebook. She is also investigating how people evaluate news differently on Twitter compared to when the exact same information when it is conveyed in a news article. Cohen discussed “fake news” during WVU’s Festival of Ideas series earlier this year. Her studies have been published in journals such as Mass Communication and Society, Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, and Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Coehn earned her Ph.D. from Georgia State University.

WV Pulitzer-Prize Winning Journalist Eric Eyre

Eric Eyre is a statehouse reporter for the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette-Mail where has also covered education, health and business since joining the paper in 1998. Eyre's work has won several national awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting, the Investigative Reporters & Editors Medal, the Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize in Education Reporting, the National Headliners Award, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Award, the Gerald Loeb Award for business writing, and an Association of Health Care Journalists award. He also was the recipient of a Kaiser Family Foundation fellowship. Eyre's investigative stories have mostly spotlighted issues in rural West Virginia communities. He graduated from Loyola University of New Orleans and received a master's degree from the University of South Florida while on a Poynter Fund Fellowship.


John E. Taylor, Jackson Kelly PLLC Professor of Law

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