The Pentagon Papers and the Post-Dispatch.
When the Pentagon Papers crisis erupted, SJR was not quite one year old. At the time, Post Publisher Joseph Pulitzer Jr. and Managing Editor Evarts A. Graham were out of the country, leaving then Assistant Manager Editor David Lipman in charge.
The New York Times broke the story June 13, two weeks before the Post. Although the Post did not have the original documents at that time, the Post gave major treatment to the stories provided by The New York Times News Service as well as lengthy accounts based on Chicago Sun-Times and Knight Newspapers and from other sources. While Lipman would not tell SJR at the time, Dudman now reveals that through contacts with I.F. Stone and Stone's brother-in-law Leonard Boudin, the Post obtained some of the Pentagon Papers. Lipman was quoted in SJR that there was really "never any question" about printing the material once the newspaper obtained the documents.
Conservative campus weekly wins delivery rights
A conservative student newspaper has won door-to-door distribution privileges in Northwestern University dormitories in a dispute with the campus' hearings board - at least until the fall term begins.
"We view it as a vindication of everything we've been saying up to this point," says outgoing Northwestern Chronicle editor Ronald Witteles, a graduating senior. He contends that the regulation barring unbridled dorm-room deliveries of the free weekly was aimed at stifling a conservative political voice on campus.
"Luckily, it appears the university is still committed to a free exchange of ideas," Witteles is quoted in the Chicago Tribune.
The board, composed of faculty and student representatives, had just struck down the university rule against dorm deliveries unless requested by residents, along with the student government's requirement that the paper's staff collect within 24 hours unread copies residents had left outside their doors. Supporters of the rules cited complaints of newspaper-strewn halls.
Jude Higdon, co-president of the Bisexual and Gay Alliance, which has been a target of the paper's barbs, called the board's decision bad. "I think it is disempowering for the individual students now forced to be counted among those who receive the Chronicle," Higdon said. "I believe the Chronicle has a right to publish their political views, but I don't like the fact they can deliver it to people who specifically ask them not to."
The victory was the paper's second in two years; a Student Dormitory Council tried last year to prohibit room delivery was also struck down. Each time the paper's case was argued by Prof. Daniel Polsby, a constitutional law expert.
The Post articles, revealing that the U.S. administration knew for years that pacification in Vietnam was a total failure, were written by Dudman, Thomas W. Ottenad and James Deakin. Later reports were also credited to William K. Wyant, Jr., James C. Millstone and Lawrence E. Taylor.
While papers throughout the country reported on the Pentagon revelations, the Nixon administration only requested that The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Boston Globe not publish the documents and when they did - against the advice of their lawyers - took court action to stop them.
Two weeks later, the Post-Dispatch finally obtained some of the documents, and it also published the papers against the advice of its lawyers. On the very day The Times and The Washington Post cases were accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court, the St. Louis paper received an immediate request from the government to halt further publication.
Lipman said at the time that he believed the government decided to act against only those papers which published actual texts from the Pentagon documents.
When U.S. Attorney Daniel Bartlett, Jr. threatened on Friday evening to seek a restraining order if the publication were not halted voluntarily, the Post rejected the request.
It is at this juncture that the record becomes muddled. Because of the small Saturday circulation, the Post planned to continue the series on Sunday. This the government interpreted as cooperation with their request. As Lipman put it, "The government either unintentionally or intentionally misconstrued our position."
When Lipman was made aware of reports that the Post caved in to the government at about I a.m. on Saturday, he ordered the Post to change plans and prepare to publish a second story in its Saturday edition.
The Post then informed Bartlett of the intention to publish further documents in the Saturday edition. Bartlett then sought the restraining order.
The question arises why the Post even informed Bartlett and why it obeyed the restraining order.
SJR reported in 1971:
"Despite the Post's verbal commitment to go ahead with publication unless legally restrained, the paper evidently bent over backwards to give the government the opportunity to restrain. In addition to informing Bartlett of the change in schedule to include a Pentagon Papers article in the Saturday edition, the paper actually withheld publication before the restraining order was actually written.
"Judge Meredith formally ordered the restraint at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, June 26, 1971. Routine printing of the Post would have allowed the paper to carry the Pentagon Papers story in that day's first edition which goes on sale at about 11:30 a.m. But the first edition did not carry the Pentagon Papers story and instead reported that a restraining order had been issued.
"Lipman acknowledges the discrepancy in time between publication of the story reporting the restraining order and the time that actually appears on the court order. He says he is not able to explain what happened.
"'We based our decision (to pull the Pentagon Papers story and substitute the restraining order box) on the information we received from our attorneys,' he says. He notes the paper was some 15 to 20 minutes late getting out because of the change. It was still out before the time of the restraining order, however."
The Post attorney later estimated that the order was early enough to affect the Post's first edition.
The question became moot by June 30 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Times and the Washington Post. Judge Meredith then removed the restraining order from the Post-Dispatch.
The day the restraining order was issued against the Post-Dispatch, U.S. Senator Eugene J. McCarthy was in St. Louis. He criticized the press for abiding by the restraining orders, "They backed off, and said, 'We hope the court will save us,' and this weakened their claim to 'freedom of the press.' If you claim freedom of the press, you must publish even if you go to jail for it," McCarthy said.
Post staffers were more willing than Post management to take legal risks in order to print the stories. Some 60 staff members presented a statement to management saying they would extend that willingness to include violating the law if the Supreme Court ruled against the press.
SJR quotes Robert E. Adams, then a Post reporter and principal circulator of the statement, that the great majority of news room employees asked to sign did so most willingly.
The signers said, "We will join our editors in jail if necessary to protect this freedom."
In 1971, St. Louis had two newspapers, the Post and the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Initially, the Globe - despite its pro-war position-consistently supported publication of the papers and also reported on those portions revealed by other papers.
Editorially, however, the Globe's position was ambivalent. After an early editorial ("The Right to Publish," June 16, 1971) strong on the side of the press, the Globe somewhat reversed itself in a later much longer editorial ("Pentagon Papers Perspective," June 25, 1971). Unlike the vigorous coverage on its news pages, the editorial page diluted its earlier insistence that "The Federal government is not justified in trying to repress newspaper publication" of the Pentagon Papers, by reasoning that the press shouldn't have acted as it did because the documents were "stolen" and were declassified without authorization.
The Post's search for and publication of the original documents then countered critics who complained that the national stature of the Post had declined. As a midwestern institution, the Post's action also nullified the claims that the "Eastern Liberal Media" were the root cause for the turmoil.
The inevitable question which must be asked in 1996 is: how would Post management act today? Although we have been repeatedly told that the Post is not a "national" newspaper anymore and that its primary obligation is the St. Louis metropolitan area, we hope that in similar circumstances it will devote the same resources and energies it did in 1971.
Charles L. Klotzer is editor/publisher emeritus of SJR.
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|Title Annotation:||St. Louis Post-Dispatch|
|Author:||Klotzer, Charle L.|
|Publication:||St. Louis Journalism Review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 1996|
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