July 12, 2023

When Celebrities Speak Their Minds

Event Series: Free Speech at the Crossroads: International Dialogues

Showing the When Celebrities Speak Their Minds Video

In the modern-day news cycle, celebrities carry substantial influence, perhaps even more than many respected politicians or news outlets. Celebrities command platforms that allow them to amplify their voices and advocate for causes they believe in. But while some promote civil rights and unselfish acts, others advance disinformation and bigotry. As the abuse of access brings heightened scrutiny, intense criticism, and professional consequences, how should we evaluate the often-dubious authority of celebrity speech and its protection under the First Amendment? Should people who attract attention primarily because of their fame be subject to the same tough scrutiny as officeholders and journalists?

This event is co-sponsored by the Free Speech Project (Georgetown University) and the Future of the Humanities Project (Georgetown University and Blackfriars Hall and Campion Hall, Oxford).


Gemma Horton is an impact fellow at the Centre for Freedom of the Media based in the Department of Journalism Studies at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. She is also assistant editor of the European Journal of Communication. Horton received her Ph.D. in 2020 from Sheffield, where she focused on how celebrities’ privacy rights are balanced with freedom of expression in law and ethical codes of conduct in Europe and the United States.

Landon Y. Jones is an author and magazine editor. His most recent book is Celebrity Nation: How America Evolved into a Culture of Fans and Followers (2023). From 1989 to 1997, he was the chief editor of People magazine, where he directed the editorial planning and launching of three magazines: Who Weekly, the Australian version of People; In Style, the successful celebrity lifestyle monthly; and People en Español, the first general-interest magazine published for the U.S. Hispanic market.

Lorraine Mary York, professor of English and cultural studies at McMaster University in Ottawa, specializes in Canadian literature and celebrity culture. Her book Literary Celebrity in Canada (2007) evaluated celebrity’s impact on Canadian literary culture, and was nominated for the Raymond Klibansky Prize in the humanities. In 2018, York published Reluctant Celebrity: Affect and Privilege in Contemporary Stardom, focusing on actors John Cusack, Robert DeNiro, and Daniel Craig.

S. Mark Young, a professor of accounting at the University of Southern California (USC), studies management control system design in entertainment. His book, The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America (2009), is a New York Times best seller. Young is the official historian of the USC men’s tennis team, and he is also a distinguished fellow of the Center for Excellence in Teaching. He holds the George Bozanic and Holman G. Hurt Chair in Sports and Entertainment Business at the university.

Michael Scott (moderator) is senior dean, fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, college adviser for postgraduate students, and a member of the Las Casas Institute. He also serves as senior adviser to the president of Georgetown University. Scott previously was the pro-vice-chancellor at De Montfort University and founding vice-chancellor of Wrexham Glyndwr University.

Sanford J. Ungar (moderator), president emeritus of Goucher College, is director of the Free Speech Project at Georgetown University, which documents challenges to free expression in American education, government, and civil society. Director of the Voice of America under President Bill Clinton, he was also dean of the American University School of Communication and is a former co-host of All Things Considered on NPR.