Skip to main content
June 2024

Ten Questions to a Media Lawyer

By Kate Bolger

Kate Bolger is a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine in New York City.

How’d you get interested in media law? What was your first job in the business?

The real answer to this question is that I was lucky, and Slade Metcalf hired me. I think it’s probably true that my First Amendment tendencies were formed by my mom and dad, both book publishers. And I know for a certainty that I was in government class in high school when Hazelwood came down – a case which, as I understood it, meant I had fewer First Amendment rights than adults – and I was outraged. Coincidentally, my teacher handed out pocket copies of the Constitution that day, and I put mine in my backpack, indignant that I wasn’t entitled to the same rights as my teacher. I still carry that Constitution (I had to write in the 27th Amendment). But the real answer is Slade.

Here is proof I passed the bar (also touch and go); and, incidentally, that my husband did — his name, John Christopher Browne, is there, too.

What do you like most about your job? What do you like least?

The best part of my job is that I think the act of speaking and publishing speech is brave and important and I am honored to defend it and to do so with my amazing colleagues in the bar. The worst part is it’s 2am and I am still working.

What was your highest profile or most memorable case?

I have been so lucky and had so much fun. I defended a reporter testifying at the custody hearing of a lion cub; defended BuzzFeed’s decision to publish the Steele dossier; helped fight off two prior restraints, including one for the Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man; sprung reporters from jail; defended news organizations from baseless litigations brought by those who sought not to vindicate a real reputational harm but to punish speech with which they disagreed; fought to protect the journalist privilege; deposed Jason Miller about his various affairs; and even defended Borat.

A photo from 1999: the first day I ever walked into a courtroom, a judge enjoined COPA on First Amendment grounds. As I mentioned, lucky me.

But one case that really moved me was the Jones case in Alabama. The article at issue was about a woman named Megan who reported a rape and in the end was prosecuted and killed herself while her alleged attacker walked free. Heartbreak. The lawsuit was brought by the policemen who handled – or mishandled – the investigation. I was honored to have defended the journalist’s (Katie J.M. Baker) right to tell Megan’s story.

Fake news, Sullivan under attack, reporters under attack – will things get worse before they get better?

I think things will get worse. The twin evils of a politicized, originalist court that considers itself above stare decis, and the very real problem of disinformation (that some judges wrongly think would be fixed by the reversal of Sullivan) don’t bode well for the press.  Add on a potential return of former President Trump and the waters get even murkier, although it’s true that a number of Trump appointed judges have been sympathetic to press issues. I am trying to find a way to say something funny here, but I am afraid it all feels a little bleak. I am, however, glad this bar will be here to keep trying our best.

How have things changed for you and your firm post-pandemic?

I would have given a different answer to this question at every moment since the pandemic started because it feels like we have been learning on the fly for four (!) years. At the risk of sounding like an old codger, the biggest change was in training – informal training was harder to do when we were apart, and we have had to adapt to be more intentional. I still think it is important to have some intentional time together. We have started meetings at 11am on Tuesdays. (The meetings, called Elevenses, were named (by me) after Winnie the Pooh – not the Fellowship of the Ring, and it’s important you know that.)  I will also add that the biggest change for the young media lawyers at DWT has unquestionably been that they no longer have to daily listen to me make terrible jokes about Winnie the Pooh.

This article is about my amazing colleagues, and it’s an honor to work with them. But the real lesson is that I should NEVER be allowed to speak in an interview.

Media law can be a difficult industry to break into. What would you suggest to a young lawyer or student trying to do so? 

In my case, it was lucky –  Slade hired me. But for some of my colleagues, a background in journalism is helpful. Attending bar meetings and conferences is also plus, and I am always impressed by people who sought out classes in law school and / or wrote about the issues.

For my practice, which is very litigation focused, I also really appreciate good nuts and bolts litigators with an interest in the subject. Because you do not win these cases by simply pointing to the First Amendment – a lot of serious, nuanced lawyering and litigation strategy is essential.

What are your favorite law-themed movies or TV shows?

I am kind of assuming that answering this question by referring to the entire canon of works by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh does not count. And I am not sure what it says about me that those delightful murder stories are my favorite escape. So I will say Twelve Angry Men and the first Law & Order series during the specific period when Jerry Orbach and Chris Noth were the detectives.

I’m visiting New York City for a few days – what are some things I must experience?

New York! Go to the Met, of course (my former employer) and look at the sculpture of the lion with the curly tale in the Egyptian wing that someone obviously loved and hid for 4000 years, and all the other amazing works. Go to a Knicks game or a Yankees game – preferably the Knicks, because I love them so and the Garden is wonderful.

Walk. A lot. It can be over the Brooklyn Bridge, down the Hudson River Walk, or through Central Park, but there should be a lot of walking. Have a drink outside (my first memory of my parents is sitting outside at The White Horse, so start there, although it has changed quite a bit over the years).

I also recommend a boat ride – clearly the Staten Island Ferry is the way to go, but may I also recommend The Beast ride? Of course, you should also eat. In my neighborhood in the Village, I love Little Owl. And go see a show – try the Village Vanguard or see Six or Hell’s Kitchen. Be exactly who you want to be. Because New York is, um, in case I haven’t mentioned it before, the best place on Earth.

You’re having a media law themed dinner party. Which judges, lawyers, and journalists are you inviting (pick three) and what will you serve?

Judge Silberman, Justice Thomas, Justice Gorsuch. I’ll serve revenge, cold.

DWT is going out for karaoke night. What are you singing?

Oh man. There is one true thing about me: I don’t karaoke. That way madness lies.