First Amendment Guerillas: Formative Years of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

By McKay, Floyd J. | Journalism and Communication Monographs, Autumn 2004 | Go to article overview

First Amendment Guerillas: Formative Years of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press


McKay, Floyd J., Journalism and Communication Monographs


Abstract

Fueled by bitter disputes over the issuance of subpoenas to reporters and operating in the contentious climate of the Watergate Era, an innovative effort in 1970 to aggressively defend the interests of working journalists gave rise to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Governed by working reporters in Washington, the Committee confronted former President Richard Nixon when he attempted to remove documents from the public domain. Shifts in the political climate, deep divisions over a media response to Grenada, and a change in leadership style brought a retreat from "guerilla" tactics in the mid-1980s. The Committee remains a reliable defender of journalists' rights and a bridge between the working press and a First Amendment Bar created during this period. Feverish activity, inner tensions, and confrontations with both publishers and public officials mark the early years of the RCFP as a significant time in the history of the American press, and also reflect a time of high drama, high stakes, and zealous actors in American political and media history.

"Basically, the idea was to fight back, and if you couldn't do it nicely, you did it through warfare . . . I'm the guerilla, and if you can't get it one way you can get it another. And that's what we did." Jack C. Landau, executive director 1974-85, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Washington lawyer Robert Herzstein read the front-page news that President Gerald R. Ford had pardoned Richard M. Nixon; a secondary story was a deal cut by Nixon and the General Services Administration, giving the disgraced former president control of his personal papers.

"It struck me as pretty insulting," Herzstein recalled three decades later.1 But it set in motion a chain of events that reclaimed the papers for the public and thrust a little-known group of journalists into the national spotlight as they took on a former President of the United States.

Herzstein's first call was to the Newhouse News Service's Supreme Court reporter, an attorney and the husband of a junior associate in Herzstein's powerful Washington law firm, Arnold and Porter. Jack C. Landau had become the point man for a group of reporters, primarily Washington-based, who had organized in 1970 as the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. When the Nixon pardon was issued on September 8, 1974, the Committee was only four years old and had been engaged primarily in efforts to protect reporters from subpoenas issued by law enforcement officers. Three years later, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its final ruling on the papers, rejecting Nixon's appeal and upholding the position of the Reporters Committee, the Committee had established itself as a force in what was emerging as a new field in the practice of law, that of First Amendment law.

From the vantage point of more than 30 years, its role in helping establish this new legal specialty is arguably the Reporters Committee's most lasting legacy to the media. But at the time, with reporters in jail for refusing to surrender notes or films, and courts and public officials closing proceedings or records the laws said were public, it was the trench battles that occupied the new organization. In a nation tearing itself apart, reporters and reporting were vital to a democratic process under extreme pressure. Cautious news executives were uncertain of how to respond, only a handful of lawyers dealt with First Amendment issues on a regular basis, and the media had a genuine enemy in the White House.

The early history of the Reporters Committee is in effect the history of a volatile time in the relations between the news media and government, and the successes and failures of the Committee would prove to be important for succeeding generations of news workers. Early efforts of the Committee reflect the serious distrust between the Nixon Administration and the media, played out at a time of national unrest and an unfolding scandal in the form of Watergate. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

First Amendment Guerillas: Formative Years of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.