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The History of Presidential Wars Against the Press | Full Report | Retro Report on PBS

The History of Presidential Wars Against the Press | Full Report | Retro Report on PBS


– President Donald Trump
has made attacking the press a hallmark of his presidency, railing against what
he considers fake news and calling journalists
the enemy of the people. – These public attacks
may be unprecedented, but when it comes to the press, he shares at least one thing in common with his predecessors, the struggle to keep government
secrets from leaking. The modern battle against
leaks can be traced back to a high stakes
attempt to stop them by President Richard Nixon
more than four decades ago. – [Richard] Right, well,
Monday at noon, officially? Well, let’s wait ’til then. Fine, (breathes sharply) okay. Nothing else of interest
in the world today? – [Al] Yes sir,
very significant. This goddamn New
York Times expose of the most highly classified
documents of the war. – [Richard] Oh that, I see. I didn’t read the story,
but you mean that, that was leaked out
of the Pentagon? – [Celeste] On June 13th, 1971, The New York Times
began publishing a trove of secret documents
called the Pentagon Papers exposing how president
after president had misled the American people
about their country’s role in escalating the Vietnam War. – [Richard] What in the world do responsible
publishers think about, to put out trunkloads
of secret documents? – [Felix] And it’s
getting worse every day. – [Richard] It’s
awful, isn’t it? – The lawyers that
represented The Times had already given dire warning that publication
could subject them to prosecution under
the Espionage Act, that they could lose
their television licenses, that the publisher
could go to jail. All said with a very
high-level of intensity. – [Celeste] But The Times
refused to stop publication, saying the American people
had the right to know the hidden calculations
behind the war. Nixon turned to the
courts to stop them. (dramatic instrumental music) – [Richard] Right to know, that’s, of course,
a goddamn code word. Right to know. The public has no right
to know secret documents. What The Times has done is
placed itself above the law. – It was very unusual for
the government to go to court to try to stop
publication of anything, but the idea of the
government going to court with respect to an on-going
news story was all but unknown. – [Celeste] For Nixon, the case was about more
than stopping a leak. He wanted to undercut the press. – [Richard] Let’s make
something out of it. It’s an opportunity.
– This issue– – [Richard] Listen, The
New York Times, believe me, The New York Times can
be discredited for… Indefinitely as
a result of this. In fact, I’m going to. – There’s more at
stake in this debate than one newspaper series or even one major
breach of security, sooner or later we
can expect this issue to come before the Supreme
Court and the question there will be the role of the
press in a democracy. – [Celeste] The
answer came quickly, in a six to three ruling that
affirmed the Times’ right to publish the
classified reports. Citing the need for checks
on government power, the Justices said that
the Nixon administration had failed to prove that
the release would cause any imminent harm. – It was very embarrassing
for President Nixon to have gone to court and lost and have the Supreme
Court write an opinion vindicating the press
that he hated so much. – [Celeste] But Nixon
wasn’t finished. – [Richard] I just say that
we’ve got to keep our eye on the main ball, the
main ball’s Ellsberg. We gotta get this
son of a bitch. (dramatic instrumental music) – [Celeste] Using a
World War I statute meant to punish spies, Nixon’s justice department
indicted Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst responsible for leaking the Pentagon
Papers to The Times. – I was tried for a violation of what is commonly described
as the Espionage Act because it’s usually
used for espionage, but I was tried under it
for a non-espionage offense. – [Celeste] Unlike a
spy, Ellsberg’s intention was not to help a
foreign government. He wanted to reveal the
truth about the Vietnam War to the American people. – [Fred] Daniel Ellsberg says
he leaked the Pentagon Papers because the government lied and concealed facts
about the Vietnam War. – We won’t the
killing, but this trial will inform the American public, in ways that it’s
never heard before, of how we’ve governed in
the past quarter century and what censorship and
deception do to a democracy. – I’m not for espionage, I
don’t know anyone who is, and I’m not against
criminalizing that. The question is,
should it be criminal to inform your fellow
citizens of things that, on the face, they aught to know. – [Celeste] That question
was left unanswered as the Watergate
Scandal enveloped the
Nixon administration. – The president
said that in 1971, he formed an investigative
unit inside the White House to fight what he called
national security leaks. One of the first things
the people in that unit did was to burglarize the offices of Daniel Ellsberg’s
psychiatrist. – With Watergate breaking out, and with the revelation of the crimes they’d
taken against me, by an almost miraculous
set of events, my charges were dismissed. – No, not you. Not you, you’re
organization’s terrible. Your organization’s terrible. Let’s go, go ahead. – [Jim] Sir, sir– – Quiet, quiet. – The press would like–
– Go ahead. She’s asking a
question, don’t be rude. – [Jim] Can you give us a– – Don’t be rude. – [Jim] Give us a question– – Don’t be rude. No, I’m not gonna give you a, I’m not gonna give you question. You are fake news. (intense instrumental music) – [Celeste] Almost five decades
after the Pentagon Papers, the Trump administration
is waging its own battle. – I think the media’s
the opposition party. – [Celeste] With the press. – The press has
become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a
tremendous disservice
to the American people. – [Celeste] While his public
attacks might be unprecedented, another part of his
strategy is not, going after those who
leak to reporters. – We’re gonna find the leakers. They’re gonna pay a
big price for leaking. – [Celeste] But Trump
didn’t have to look all the way back to
Nixon for a roadmap, his predecessor provided it. – If we can root out
folks who have leaked, they will suffer consequences. – [Celeste] Over a
span of four years, the Obama administration
charged eight people with violating the Espionage Act for sharing government
secrets with the press, more than all previous
administrations combined. Matthew Miller was
a senior official in the Obama justice department. – If you look the way, then
you only encourage other people to leak national
security secrets. You do have to show that
there are consequences for leaking information that
could harm national security and the only way to do
that is to prosecute some of the individuals responsible for the
most egregious leaks. (dramatic instrumental music) There are secrets that
need to remain secret. – [Celeste] Miller says
that keeping secrets secret became more challenging
in the digital age. Massive leaks of classified
information by Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks showed how
vulnerable secrets had become. – We begin tonight
with that mountain of secret wartime information
exposed in the press today, more documents than the
Pentagon Papers during Vietnam. – [Celeste] But in
trying to control leaks, Obama moved into territory that other presidents
had largely avoided. – I’m sitting at my
desk and I get an email that looks like it’s from
the Department of Justice. I’m not sure what it is and
I look at Matt and I said, “Matt, what is
this, is this spam?” And I said, “It’s not spam. “The government just
took our phone records. – [Celeste] In May of 2013, former Associated Press
reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman learned
that the government had seized their phone records
during an investigation into who leaked details of
a CIA operation in Yemen. The dragnet scooped
up records from phones used by more than 100
reporters and editors. – One thing we heard again
and again from prosecutors was, “Well, of course we
took the phone records “for your editors
and your colleagues “and your bureaus and
swept everybody up, “’cause that’s exactly how
we would investigate a gang.” Well, we’re not a
gang, we’re a newsroom and the right to deal drugs
isn’t in the Constitution, so there should be a recognition that what happens in the
news gathering process is a little different. It felt like it was
just an investigation intended to send the message,
don’t talk to reporters. – Yeah. – It had the desired effect. – [Celeste] In the case of a
classified leak at Fox News, the Obama justice
department went so far as to imply that
correspondent James Rosen, because of his reporting,
could be charged with a crime. – [Reporter] In court papers,
an FBI agent said Rosen, “asked solicited and
encouraged” a source to give him sensitive
information about North Korea and that he was a
possible “co-conspirator” for violations of
the Espionage Act. – Not ’til that moment had
the United States government ever characterized the
behavior of a journalist as being that of a
co-conspirator to a crime for asking questions
about government policy. – That the Obama-Holder
justice department– – [Celeste] Rosen
was never charged, and following a media outcry, the Obama administration
reigned in some of the more
aggressive tactics used to obtain
journalists’ records. – We must enforce consequences
for those who break the law, but a free press is also
essential for our democracy, that’s who we are. And I’m troubled by
the possibility that
leak investigations may chill the
investigative journalism that holds government
accountable. – While there’s a necessity
to protect national security, there is also an enormous
need for an informed public. And so, while one can justify certain prosecutions of leakers, the risk of them is that
it does provide a roadmap for a hostile administration to really try to
bring the press down. – [Celeste] Since taking
office, the Trump administration has increased the number
of leak investigations and aggressively
prosecuted leakers. At least five people
have been indicted under the Espionage Act,
including Julian Assange. – The US leveling more
than a dozen new charges against WikiLeaks
founder Julian Assange. – [Celeste] But this is only
one way the current president has worked to change
the public narrative of his administration. – Fake, fake, disgusting news. (crowd cheers) – [Crowd] CNN sucks,
CNN sucks, CNN sucks! – And just remember,
what you’re seeing and what you’re reading
is not what’s happening and I’ll tell you– – I think, in this day and age, the value of the
unofficial story, the story that has not been
sanctioned by the government, that value is greater
than it’s ever been. – [Celeste] Having lived through
the Nixon administration, Daniel Ellsberg says it’s
critical that no president is given the power
to dictate the truth. – Can you really have
democracy in a real sense with the government
having the final voice and the total voice
as to what citizens shall know about
what they’re doing and whether they’re
telling the truth and whether they’re
obeying the law? I would say no. If they have the last word and the citizens can only know what the government tells them, it’s a mockery of a democracy. (dramatic instrumental music)

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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