In the past month the American Civil Liberties Union has challenged both the United States government and the administrations of two American universities with facts concerning activities and policies they believe to be in direct violation of the spirit of the First Amendment. - On 27 September a report documenting censorship of the press during the Nixon Administration was released. Along the same line, in a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on 6 October, the ACLU and its Northern and Southern California affiliates supported the right of journalists to withhold information revealed to them by confidential sources. Two cases involving students' rights within the college community were brought to the Supreme Court by the ACLU Foundation on 29 September. In each instance the Supreme Court was asked to consider in their review - the First Amendment. The First Amendment A Ghost In Court


tioning of State Department workers on leaks of "stories harmful to the national interest ." The interrogation has sub- sequently discouraged State officials from talking to the press at all. The government's subtler, unpub- licized actions against the press . and the press 's reactions • are recorded in the ACLU Report in the words of press and government representatives, as told to Powledge : -Louis Kraar of Time-Life News Service told Powledge he has gotten a runaround by military and other govern- ment officials in the Far East . He has been denied information and access to transportation. -Murray Seeger, economic specialist for The Los Angeles Times, said that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stopped briefing the press last spring after a Bureau analyst admitted that a reported drop in the unemployment rate was sta- tistically insignificant. -Fred Graham of The New York Times said his calls to two Department of Justice divisions, Civil Rights and Internal Security, "are routinely intercepted and re-routed back to the Justice Department public information office." Graham now uses pseudonyms to get past department secretaries. -Richard Salant, president of CBS News, reported that John D. Erlichman, assistant to President Richard M. Nixon for domestic affairs, in the midst of a casual conversation "lit into Dan Rather (CBS White House correspondent] and called him a hatchet man," implying that Rather should be removed. Salant also reported a "boycott" of the press by Defense Secretary Melvin Laird. -Jack Nelson of The Los Angeles Times, who has repeatedly revealed data embarrassing to the FBI, said that he has been smeared by FBI Assistant Director Thomas Bishop as "a man who drinks too

much." -Ned Schnurman , city editor of WCBS-TV, said that his reporters are con- tinually turned away from meetings that they want to cover. As for the press's response to the government's pressure, John Wicklein, formerly of WCBS-TV r.ews, reported that CBS executives generated "a tremendous fear of what the administra- tion could do to that broadcasting station in terms of harassing it ... They said, in effect, to newsmen: 'Don't do anything that could get us a complaint'." Ac- cording to Wicklein, the network itself grilled the WCBS news staff after one controversial story on an abortion clinic. Said Salant: "We have more lawyers than we have reporters." Powledge points out that Federal Communications Commissioner Nicholas Johnson once noted that at an anti-war march in Washington of more than 500,000 persons a few days after Agnew's . Des Moines speech, "everyone was there, it seemed, except the President and the network newsmen." Powledge also writes of cases of police infiltration of the press - and the chilling effect on the press because infiltration is generally suspected. He documents in- stances of "utter harassment" of the underground and campus press, not only surveillance •b.:lt also denials of access to information, arrests, and physical as- saults. Powledge comments: "It is not difficult fcir an observer who possesses a healthy amount of paranoia to conclude that the authorities would treat the straight press in the same crude ways, if they thought they could get away with it. And increasingly - aided by vice- presidential speeches, subpoenas from the Justice Department, notices from the FCC, citations from Congressmen, censor- ship by the courts; in short, what a-

CHILLING OF THE PRESS The ACLU Report documenting censorship of the press, was prepared by journalist Fred Powledge. It is the first in a planned series of reports extracted largely from private interviews with more than forty -five representatives of the press and government. Powledge concluded that "attacks on the press by the officers of government ave become so widespread and all- pervasive that they constitute a massive federal-level attempt to subvert the letter and the spirit of the First Amend· ment .. ." There has also been "a subtle ten- dency • almost impossible to document or measure - of the press itself to pull back; to consider the controversiality of its actions before it takes them, and then, in some cases, not to take those actions - to engage in self-censorship." The result, according to the ACLU Report, has been increased coverage of middle America, which is laudable, but decreased coverage of ghetto America, which is lamentable. Press outlets try to play it safe to avoid being singled out for criticism. "In commercial television, the chill has become as ordinary as a station break." The report traces the government 's campaign to "chill the press" to Vice- President Spiro Agnew's November, 1969 Des Moines speech, which attacked the television networks and noted that they are a "government sanctioned and licensed monopoly" - a lightly veiled re- minder that those licenses could be revoked. Aweek later in Montgomery the Vice-President blasted the print media in a similiar speech. Powledge recounts the series of widely-publicized government threats, subpoenas and injunctions that have been . issued, ending with the FBI's recent ques-

Made with FlippingBook Online newsletter