Academic journal article Journalism History

War and Press Freedom: The Problem of Prerogative Power

Academic journal article Journalism History

War and Press Freedom: The Problem of Prerogative Power

Article excerpt

Smith, Jeffery A. War and Pres, Freedom: The Problem of Prerogative Power. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 324 pp. $19.95.

The "classified" state secrets protected by law cover the type of information that an enemy nation is aware of and fmds useful, regardless of whether it has already been published by the news media. This was how the Supreme Court -of South Korea in 1972 interpreted the National Security Act on classified information. The Korean Supreme Court's nonchalant disregard of press freedom, however, did not necessarily typify an authoritarian body politic in South Korea in the 1970s. Indeed, federal district Judge Robert Warren of the United States was no different from the South Korean jurists when he rejected the First Amendment right to a free press in favor of the elastic concept of national security. In granting a preliminary injunction against publication in Progressive magazine of an H-bomb article, he preferred the "right to continued life" over freedom of the press, reasoning that the publicly available information contained in the H-bomb story was still classified under the Atomic Energy Act.

In War and Press Freedom, Jeffery A. Smith, professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Iowa, criticizes Judge Warren for his failure to "consider the totalitarian potential of a ruling that placed security above liberty as suppressive regimes traditionally have done." He points out that the American government, not the press, was the culprit for letting the Soviet Union and other countries obtain "secrets" about the atomic bomb.

Smith's analysis of the Progressive case epitomizes many provocative insights in War and Press Freedom about the American government's "misguided national security mentality" and its impact on press freedom in U.S. history. The book is the result of Smith's systematic quest to answer "how broad notions of 'self-preservation' and 'national security' have weakened the most important liberty in the Bill of Rights." He characterizes the war-time suppression of freedom of expression in America as "usually . . . unconstitutional, unjust, and impractical." He also is profoundly disturbed by the "common sense" assumptions that national security overrides "the safety of rights and democratic process," which include freedom of the press under the First Amendment.

The book reexamines the widely shared perception that there is an adversarial relationship between the press and the government over wartime reporting. …

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