C. Edwin Baker, the Nicholas F. Gallicchio Professor of Law and Communication at the Law School, died December 8, 2009, in New York City, where he had lived the past 20 years. He was 62. He collapsed while exercising and could not be revived.
Professor Baker was considered one of the country’s foremost authorities on the First Amendment and on mass media policy. Most recently, he focused his work on the economics of the news business, political philosophy, and jurisprudential questions concerning the egalitarian and libertarian bases of constitutional theory. “Ed Baker was a brilliant scholar, a dedicated teacher and a wonderful friend,” said Penn Law Dean Michael A. Fitts. “Generations of students and lawyers benefitted from his insights, his high expectations and his caring approach to everyone around him. His death is a great loss for the Penn Law community as well as for the larger community of academicians and practitioners focused on free speech, the media and human rights.”
His work was read and respected by policy makers and students in the United States and internationally. Just this past summer, he taught a course on communication policy, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press at Communication University of China in Beijing. Earlier this year, Professor Baker told a Congressional subcommittee that “huge actual layoffs of journalists as well as threatened closures of towns’ only daily are a major threat to democracy. When people are reading newspapers, corruption goes down.” In January, he wrote an essay calling for a targeted federal tax credit to help newspapers hire more journalists, instead of laying them off.
“It is always a pleasure to read Ed Baker’s work, but it is a pleasure tinged by envy, for I inevitably come away thinking, ‘I wish I were that good a scholar,’” said Seth Kreimer, the Kenneth W. Gemmill Professor at Penn Law. “Some of my colleagues are outstanding lawyers, some are insightful social scientists, and Ed was both. Rather than deploying a single social science paradigm to illuminate a legal problem, he deployed two or three, with the result brilliantly illuminating the discourse of practicing lawyers and judges.”
Professor Baker was scheduled to participate in the upcoming fifth international human rights workshop on the subject of “Private Power and Human Rights” in Israel, and he was working on his fifth book at the time of his death. His first book, Human Liberty and Freedom of Speech, published by Oxford University Press in 1989, defends interpreting First Amendment freedom of speech as concerned primarily with individual freedom and autonomy rather than the more traditional understanding of it being about a marketplace of ideas. Advertising and a Democratic Press became a leading critique of the impact of advertising on media’s non-advertising content and Media, Markets, and Democracy explores why the free market predictably fails to provide the media that consumers want or citizens need. His most recent book, Media Concentration and Democracy: Why Ownership Matters, evaluates economic and democratic reason to oppose media concentration.
Professor Baker joined Penn Law in 1981 and focused his teaching on constitutional law, mass media law, the First Amendment, and jurisprudence. Since 2007, he had held a joint appointment in the Annenberg School for Communication. He began his career as a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union and held teaching positions at eight universities prior to joining Penn Law.
“There was no scholar so committed, passionate, disciplined and wise in thinking through the relationship between the media and the political system,” said Monroe Price, the director of the Center for Global Communication Studies at Penn’s Annenberg School. “He was a quiet and persistent missionary for his own very exacting and compelling view of the First Amendment and international norms of free speech.”
Professor Baker received his law degree from Yale University and his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University. He had been a fellow at Harvard on three occasions, most recently as a Radcliff Fellow in 2006.
A memorial service is being planned for January 31, 2010, in New York City. Contributions in his memory should be made to the ACLU, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Oxfam, or any other charity honoring his commitment to human rights and free speech.
Professor Baker is survived by his sister, Nancy Baker; her spouse, Cathy Hauer; and seven first cousins.