Dorothy Sucher (May 18, 1933 – August 22, 2010) was an American author and psychotherapist who worked as a reporter at the Greenbelt News Review, where an article that she wrote that quoted critics of a developers calling his plans "blackmail" initially resulted in a $17,500 judgement against the paper. The U.S. Supreme Court would later overturn the lower court verdict, ruling in Greenbelt Cooperative Publishing Assn. v. Bresler that the use of "rhetorical hyperbole" in such cases is covered by the First Amendment, a major victory that supported Freedom of the press in the United States.
She was born Dorothy Glassman on May 18, 1933, in Brooklyn, where she majored in English at Brooklyn College, graduating magna cum laude in 1954. She would later earn a master's degree in 1975 from Johns Hopkins University in mental health.
Supreme Court case
Sucher worked as a reporter earning $5 a week for the Greenbelt News Review of Greenbelt, Maryland from 1959 to 1970, filling in as a columnist and associate editor. In that capacity she covered a 1965 city council hearing where developer Charles S. Bresler offered to sell a property the city wanted to acquire as long as he received the variances he was seeking on a development project, a deal that was described by members of the public attending the meeting as "blackmail", and Sucher reported these comments in her article on the meeting. Bresler filed suit in circuit court and a jury found in his favor, awarding him $17,500, a decision affirmed by the Maryland Court of Appeals. In 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8–0 to overturn the lower court ruling, finding that "even the most careless reader must have perceived that the word was no more than rhetorical hyperbole", that "It is simply impossible to believe that a reader who reached the word 'blackmail' in either article would not have understood exactly what was meant" and that no reader would have interpreted the word in question to mean that Bresler had committed the criminal offense. To have ruled otherwise "would subvert the most fundamental meaning of a free press".
She would work as a psychotherapist with the Group Health Association from 1975 to 1980 and then went into private practice. As an author she wrote the mystery books Dead Men Don't Give Seminars in 1988 and Dead Men Don't Marry in 1989, followed by 1999's The Invisible Garden which was a collection of her essays. Her short stories were published in Mystery Readers Journal, Vermont Life and The Washington Post Magazine. Many years later she began to write a book about the News Review libel case, but was unable to find a publisher.
Sucher was active with the Sisters in Crime, an organization that aims to foster the development and recognition of female mystery writers. She served in 1978 as state coordinator for the National Organization for Women, as part of her longstanding advocacy in support of women's rights. She returned to the Greenbelt News Review in 1993, working there until 2004, including time spent as the paper's editor in chief.
A resident of Silver Spring, Maryland, Sucher died at age 77 on August 22, 2010, at her home there due to thyroid cancer. She was survived by her husband Joseph, as well as by two sons and a granddaughter.
- Hevesi, Dennis. "Dorothy Sucher, Reporter in Press-Freedom Case, Dies at 77", The New York Times, August 31, 2010. Accessed September 2, 2010.
- Buerger, Megan. "Dorothy Sucher dies at 77; wrote story that was test case for freedom of press", The Washington Post, August 28, 2010. Accessed September 2, 2010.
- GREENBELT COOPERATIVE PUBLISHING ASSOCIATION, Inc., et al., Petitioners, v. Charles S. BRESLER, OpenJurist.com, May 18, 1970. Accessed September 2, 2010.
- Lange, Sandra A. (September 23, 2010), "Inspiring the City Museum: Dorothy Sucher's Legacy" (PDF), Greenbelt News Review, p. 8