Recently I had to pleasure of interviewing James C. Goodale, the former Chief Counsel and Vice-Chairman at the New York Times, and represented the Times in the Pentagon Paper Trials. His book Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles outlines the decisions made by the New York Times during the Pentagon Papers era, but also looks forward into modern times and the challenges that face current journalists.
In 1969, a leaked source provided the New York Times and Washington Post with classified Defense Department documents regarding the Vietnam War, sections of which were published by both companies. Nixon attempted to use prior restraint, the government use of censorship to ban expression before it takes place, to prevent these documents from being published. In the famous Supreme Court case New York Times v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed whether the Nixon administration was in violation of the First Amendment by restricting the publication of this information. In a six to three decision, the court held that the Nixon administration was indeed in violation of the First Amendment, upholding the right of the publishing companies to release these documents.
The conclusion of the Pentagon Papers Trial was a huge victory for Goodale, when the Supreme Court came to a decision that the New York Times was within its legal boundaries because their publication did not “result in direct, immediate, and irreparable damage to our Nation or its people.” When asked how he feels the outcome of the Pentagon Papers trial has affected how journalism is conducted today he responded “I think that it has given them all sorts of moral support, that under certain conditions, the courts will protect them.” Although he believes the moral support is there, he feels “nothing has changed for the most part” when it comes to First Amendment issues for journalists.
Goodale spends much of the book outlining his experience at the New York Times during the Pentagon Papers but it also goes into detail about the future of journalism under the Obama administration. Goodale makes the argument in his book that when it comes to national security that Obama is rather hawkish and is most likely the reason for his unprecedented prosecution of accused leakers of national security information. He feels that Obama, “is equally as bad and could turn out to be worse,” than President Nixon when it comes to press leaks regarding national security. He later goes on to say that “I am worried about if he will prosecute [Julian] Assange, Obama seems to be consistently going after Assange as to where Nixon would not have.”
One point he consistently stressed during his book and in the interview was to watch the outcome of the Bradley Manning trial. When asked about the eventual fate of the Manning trial he said “it would be my guess that he would get less than life.” As for Assange he said that he is still held up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London because he “wants to stay there because he doesn’t want to face Obama’s grand jury.”
I also asked him about what he believes Julian Assange’s fate will be. He believes that Assange is trying to run the clock out, maybe two or three years so people and the Justice Department will forget about him. And when it comes to his opinion of whether or not WikiLeaks damaged national security he feels that it is “too early to tell…I would say thus far there is no damage to national security.”
Finally I asked him which presidential administration was the most reasonable when it came to freedom of the press. He responded, “Clinton. Why? Because he didn’t make a big deal over classified info. Clinton vetoed a bill that would have made publication of classified information harder.”
My conversation I had with Mr. Goodale was lively and fun to be apart of. His book, from what I have read of it, is incredibly readable even though much of it is about the Pentagon Papers trial. I plan to post a full review of his book shortly, so stay tuned!