May 19, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

Fighting for the Press–Book Review

4 min read

When one comes across a headline in the news about the violation of a First Amendment right, the right in question is usually one of speech or religion. The other three freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment–press, petition, and assembly–never seem to get much attention. As the government continues to restrict the people’s rights during the current war on terror, it becomes more and more disheartening to hear of these flagrant abuses and violations. While we fight fervently to protect these two rights (speech and religion), it is important to remember that press is what allows American citizens to be in the know; the press is what keeps the people informed. Without the press there would be no dissemination of information; ergo, no men and women to rally together (assembly), to unite behind one forthright voice–which heard makes known their dissatisfaction, needs, and desires (speech). The press’ investigative journalism has earned the nickname of “the government watchdog” for a reason. The Free Dictionary defines watchdog as: [o]ne who serves as a guardian or protector against waste, loss, or illegal practices.


James Goodale / Pentagon Papers (1971)

While cases such as those recently brought against Julian Assange (Wikileaks) and Judy Miller (The New York Times) have attempted to halt the press and scare reporters into divulging their sources, one case in particular set into action a legacy of protection. In 1971, the American press went head-to-head in the ultimate showdown against President Richard Nixon. The press organization that Nixon placed on the chopping block was The New York Times. In what Nixon believed was a matter of “national security,” he demanded that the courts issue prior restraint against the Times and prohibit any further publication of the Pentagon Papers. This would mark the first time that the American government attempted to have a federal court issue prior restraint. While this legal battle was not won by one individual, James Goodale was a major contributor and (for decades to come) would play a key role in guaranteeing the future freedoms of the press.

James Goodale, the author of Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles, served The New York Times as their general counsel in all four of the cases in which the Times tried cases before the Supreme Court. Moreover, he served as a beacon, both in hope and strength, in New York Times Co. v. United States (1971). Upon starting his legal career with Lord Day and Lord, in 1959, he also enlisted in the Army Reserve. During his six years in the Reserve, Goodale served as a strategic and intelligence research analyst. This training would greatly influence Goodale in his ability to determine the real worth of “classified” and “top secret” documents. Knowing that the system used to determine how a document should be rubber-stamped was a sham, Goodale was confident in his beliefs and assertive in his stance.


In Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles, Goodale gives a firsthand account of the (literal) trials and tribulations of battling the Nixon administration and the Justice Department. The book fully explains the events leading up to the first publication of the Pentagon Papers, while giving you insightful tidbits that only the keys players had access to. As this case is one of the most prominent in First Amendment constitutional history, the outcome is already known. The book won’t keep you guessing, but offers an intelligent summary of the ins and outs of the case. There were numerous areas in the book which I found enthralling: the process by which the government decided what was deemed “top-secret,” the structure and continued use of journalist’s power of contempt, and the establishment of shield laws. (Just to name a few!) While the majority of the book surrounds New York Times Co. v. United States, the book ends with a summary of recent First Amendment cases. Maybe the most important aspect of the book is its ability to portray the parallels between Nixon’s administration of those of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Overall, the book was an informative read. That being said, however, it may be hard to get through if you do not have an interest in legal proceedings, journalism, or First Amendment rights. If U.S. Constitutional history is important to you (which it should be to everyone), or you are considering a career in law or journalism, this book is worth picking up. For more on this book, click on any of the links above to purchase from Amazon or check out information on the publishers page.