An excellent overview of the Pentagon Papers and they case they provoked is available online at Awesome Stories
Review prior restraint (see lessons 1-4) or this fairly thorough definition
.Overview of prior restraint from the First Amendment Center
- Direct student to read and review the concept of prior restraint (two links suggested above).
- Hand out the following list to students individually, or in a group if you wish them to discuss their answers.:
- A television network plans to broadcast soldiers’ flag-draped coffins being returned to the U.S.
- A magazine will feature an interview with and photographs of a seriously wounded soldier.
- A newspaper article will detail a major city’s response plan in case of a terrorist attack.
- A news report will contain a map of Iraq, illustrating American troop positions.
- Instruct students to circle the items they would consider “ok” to publish if they were reporters. Remind students they must weigh this decision with the fact that they are average citizens as well as reporters.
- Instruct students to provide a reason for their decision on each.
- When students are finished, ask which were the hardest to agree on/created most discussion.
Questions for Discussion
Have students research the Pentagon Papers background. The most accessible source is Awesome Stories
Ask one student to summarize the outcome in his/her own words for the class to hear.
Discuss the case outcome with the students, including who agrees and who disagrees with the Court’s decision and why.
Then ask the following questions:
- The Pentagon Papers was about the Vietnam War. How is that different from the actions of the press in current coverage of the Iraq war?
- Given current technology, can prior restraint ever be effective?
- If the public has access to visual accounts of a war in progress, how might that affect American support?
- What measures might the government use to prevent coverage?
- Would the Supreme Court decision in New York Times v. United States (1971) be the same today, in light of the Iraq War? Why or why not?
Invite editors or publishers from local newspapers, online news sites and/or broadcast stations in your area to come to class to discuss the thought and questioning process they go through with reporters --and government officials -- when deciding whether or not to publish sensitive material. Stories may have dealt with national security issues, but they may also have dealt with sensitive local government topics. adapted from American Journalism Review teachers’ website
As the Pentagon Papers case demonstrates, conflicts between reporters and government officials over publication of confidential material often arise in
times of war.
Ask students to write a 1,500-word research paper on another historical case of their choice, in which government officials have sought to prevent publication of a story, to re-shape the direction of a story, or to punish reporters post-publication, citing national security interests.
The research paper should give a summary of the facts of the story and the newspaper's arguments for publishing; a summary of the government's reaction and/or interference pre- or post-publication; and an analysis by the student of whether or not the news publication should have published the story. The research paper should include footnotes or end notes for all citations. adapted from American Journalism Review teachers’ website
Authoritative Online Resources: The National Security ArchiveThe New York Times’ dedicated websitePentagon Papers Timeline
A YouTube video, well done, quick, effective overview, “The Pentagon Papers: A Primer for Top Secret at New York Theater Workshop
“The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers” available from New Day Films
Public libraries and k-12 schools, $99 (Fall 2010)
Nominated for 2010 Best Documentary Academy Award
A play: Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers
, a radio-theater play, created 1991 on the 20th anniversary of the epic fight. The University of Southern California has a website dedicated to the events. The section on “Newspapers” is very informative.
The New York Times: Images, the Law and War
“Misreading the Pentagon Papers
,” by Leslie Gelb, who served as director of Pentagon Papers project from 1967 to 1969