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Freedom of the Press Does Not Extend To State Secrets

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  • Gabriel Schoenfeld on Freedom of the Press

    Clip: Gabriel Schoenfeld argues for the motion "Freedom of the Press Does Not Extend To State Secrets."

  • Michael Chertoff on Freedom of the Press

    Clip: Michael Chertoff argues for the motion "Freedom of the Press Does Not Extend To State Secrets."

  • David Sanger on Freedom of the Press

    Clip: David Sanger argues against the motion "Freedom of the Press Does Not Extend To State Secrets."

  • Alan Dershowitz on Freedom of the Press

    Clip: Alan Dershowitz argues against the motion "Freedom of the Press Does Not Extend To State Secrets."

Debate Details

The First Amendment protects freedom of the press, but how do we reconcile the conflict between national security and accountability? Do we err on the side of secrecy or transparency? From the Pentagon Papers to WikiLeaks, join the debate between the need for government secrecy and the public’s right to know. 

The Debaters

For the motion

Michael Chertoff

Senior of Counsel at Covington & Burling LLP

Served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009. He is currently Senior of Counsel at Covington & Burling LLP... Read More

Gabriel Schoenfeld

Author, "Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law".

Is Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute and Resident Scholar at the Witherspoon Institute. He is the author, most recently, of "Necessary Secrets: National... Read More

Against the motion

Alan Dershowitz

Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Alan M. Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, has been called “the nation’s most peripatetic civil liberties... Read More

David Sanger

Chief Washington Correspondent of The New York Times

Is Chief Washington Correspondent of The New York Times and a part of the team of reporters and editors in The Times’ WikiLeaks coverage. Sanger... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • A press that can publish state secrets without fear of prosecution endangers the nation.
  • Groups like WikiLeaks should not be able to, in the name of transparency, indiscriminately dump thousands of state secrets onto the Internet.
  • The press can be a flawed judge of what is in the public interest. It is no better at separating itself from its own interests than anybody else is, and unlike the organs of government, which are accountable to the public and each other, the press is accountable to no one.
Against The Motion
  • There are secrets that should be kept, but it should not be up to the executive of the U.S. government alone to decide which of those secrets are worthy of keeping.
  • "State secrets" encompasses far too much. You cannot have a system in which you keep state secrets from being published if almost everything is a state secret.
  • Secrets are not merely published because they are interesting stories. They are published because there's a worthy debate that the public should conduct.

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The Research

The Research

Is There a Right to Know?

Andrew C. McCarthy
November 30, 2010

To the extent that there is a public “right to know,” there must also be limitations on that right, fixed in accordance with the kind of country the public wants the United States to be.”

U.S. Code, Title 18, Chapter 37

December 31, 1969

The Constitution

March 1, 1791

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

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