Explore the First Amendment Freedom of Press

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Explore the power of press freedom in your hometown and around the world.

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A free and independent press is fundamental to a democratic society and allows us to live with liberty.

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost,” Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend in 1786.

Protected by the First Amendment, a free press means our government answers to the people. An independent news media uses its watchdog role to investigate and report on government overreach and wrongdoing and hold those in power accountable for their actions.

News and opinion, ideas and information flow through a free press. Our exposure to a variety of viewpoints encourages self-expression and debate and helps us make informed decisions about our community and country – from voting on a school budget to voting for a president. 

This core freedom also entertains us, provides a “first draft of history” and spurs some of us toward activism.

Through the Freedom Forum resources below, we invite you to explore press freedom: how it has evolved in law, what some of the threats to journalists and a free press are and how today’s changing media landscape of internet information sites and social media fits into a First Amendment framework.

Expert Columns

Freedom Forum fellows and staff offer insights on the right to a free press and the First Amendment.

TonyMauro_Col_6.9.21

Perspective: Is the Supreme Court Still a Defender of Press Freedom?
By Tony Mauro, special correspondent for the Freedom Forum
The golden era of Supreme Court protection of the press may be waning, according to a new study.

More columns:

Programs


April Ryan

Assessing Press Freedom in the United States
A panel of journalists including The Kansas City Star’s Melinda Henneberger, Fox News’s John Roberts, American Urban Radio Network’s April Ryan, left, and CNN’s Jim Acosta discusses the state of press freedom in the United States and reviews trends from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a nonpartisan website dedicated to documenting press freedom violations.

First Five Now: The Presidents vs. the Press

First Five Now: The Presidents vs. the Press
Scholar and author Harold Holzer talks about his book, “The Presidents vs. the Press: The Endless Battle Between the White House and the Media from the Founding Fathers to Fake News.” The book provides a sweeping history of relations between journalists and the presidency and offers an authoritative account of American presidents’ attacks on freedom of the press.

S.E. Cupp

First Five Live: A Conversation with S.E. Cupp
CNN host and political commentator S.E. Cupp discusses what the First Amendment means to her and specifically how she uses a free press to guide her work. She also offers insights on the state of the First Amendment in our nation today.

Jim Acosta

Jim Acosta on Covering President Trump
CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta talks about his new book, “The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America,” which chronicles his coverage of the Donald Trump administration. Acosta also talks about the importance of press freedom in maintaining a democracy.

One Nation With News for All: Journalists of Color Speak Out

One Nation With News for All: Journalists of Color Speak Out
Journalists of color who lead and work for media outlets that cover their communities share perspectives on issues that affect their audiences and the world. They also discuss how their work continues to shape America.

For more upcoming programs, visit our events calendar here. Visit our YouTube channel for more program videos.

 

Dig Deeper: Resources on Media Literacy and A Free Press


Fact Finder: Your Foolproof Guide to Media Literacy

Fact Finder: Your Foolproof Guide to Media Literacy
Bring the road-tested tools of journalism from the newsroom to your news feed. Create a complete course of material on today’s media literacy essentials or sharpen a specific skill, from finding quality news to reporting it.

Media Literacy Booster Pack

Media Literacy Booster Pack
Staying fresh and fluent in today’s media landscape isn’t easy. This collection of resources offers tools to tackle eight pressing challenges, from recognizing bias and propaganda to leveraging your role as a media contributor.

 
Media Ethics

Media Ethics
Is it OK to clean up a quote or broadcast unconfirmed information? Students become more critical consumers of news media by examining real-life case studies of journalists striving to be accurate, fair and clear. Students also grapple with issues journalists may encounter, including privacy, anonymous sources and the pressure to be first.

The Press and the Civil Rights Movement: Video Lesson

Press and the Civil Rights Movement
This extended video explores the interplay between a free press and the civil rights movement’s fight for equality.

Primary Sources: From the Newseum Collection


The Pentagon Papers: Newspapers Defy Censorship

In a famous test of press censorship in 1971, the U.S. Department of Justice tried to prevent The New York Times and The Washington Post from publishing articles about the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Defense Department study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam. In New York Times Co. v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court protected the news media’s right to publish the articles. Even if publishing would harm national security interests, that concern was not enough to justify prior restraint of the news media, the justices concluded.

The New York Times

The New York Times, June 13, 1971
The New York Times described its plan to summarize and share the core content of the massive Pentagon Papers report through a series of articles.

The New York Times

The New York Times, June 15, 1971
The New York Times reports on its decision to decline U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell’s request to cease printing Pentagon Paper articles.

 
The New York Times

The New York Times, July 1, 1971
The Supreme Court did not find enough evidence to support the government’s position that publishing details from the Pentagon Papers would harm the war effort.

courtroom sketch

Courtroom Sketch of Trial
This courtroom sketch depicts arguments in the trial of Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the secret Pentagon Papers.

Watergate: A Conspiracy Uncovered, A President Resigns

The Watergate scandal involved criminal abuse of power at the highest levels of U.S. government – brought to light by The Washington Post – and forced the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. The scandal began with an early-morning burglary of the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate building complex in Washington, D.C., in June 1972. The burglars stole documents and wiretapped phones. They were connected to Nixon’s re-election campaign, an investigation by Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein revealed. The reporters uncovered Nixon’s role in the conspiracy, despite his aggressive efforts to conceal it, and several administration officials eventually were criminally charged and jailed. For this work as a watchdog on the actions of government, the Post won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1973. Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974.

Watergate door

Watergate door
Burglars taped open the latch of this door at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. A security guard’s discovery of the taped lock led to the arrest of the burglars, touching off the Watergate scandal.

Representation: Our News, Our Voices
Double V

‘Double V’ Campaign Goals
The “Double V” campaign highlighted inequality at home for Black Americans while they fought overseas during World War II.

The Gay Blade

The Gay Blade, October 1969
The publication started months after police harassment of patrons at New York’s Stonewall Inn, a LGBTQ bar in Greenwich Village, sparked five days of unrest in 1969 and galvanized the gay rights movement.

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