Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Book Review: Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles by James C. Goodale

Fighting for the PressFighting for the Press by James C. Goodale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles is a first-hand account by James C. Goodale of The New York Times’ battle against Richard Nixon’s Department of Justice for the right to publish the Pentagon Papers.  At the time Goodale was the Times’ general counsel and lead architect of the legal strategy the Times’ lawyers used in the First Amendment cases which included the Pentagon Papers.  Goodale’s first-hand knowledge not only of the case, but of the events leading up to the case gave extreme weight to this book.

Goodale lays the foundation of the Times’ strategy in the Papers case by discussing the case of Times’ reporter Earl Caldwell and the reasons for the newspapers fight against the Department of Justice’s subpoena for his sources.  As that Caldwell’s case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Goodale along with the Times’ editorial staff and management confronted the issue of the Pentagon Papers.  Goodale’s account of arguments with the Times’ management and the Times’ own lawyers before and at the beginning of the case brings a whole new dimension to the history of the case.  The day-by-day account of the Times’ Pentagon Paper case’s nine-day journey to the U.S. Supreme Court and the actions by the government from Goodale’s point-of-view are equally riveting as well as the reaction to their Supreme Court victory.

The last quarter of the book, Goodale gives a history of First Amendment cases after the Pentagon Papers including the Caldwell case.  It isn’t until the last two chapters that Goodale takes a look of the environment of government-press relations surrounding the Pentagon Papers to the current War on Terrorism under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  Though solid compare and contrast between the actions of the Nixon DOJ to those under Bush and Obama, Goodale attempts to shift the main thrust of his book from the Pentagon Paper case to the current government related actions concerning the freedom of press in a lurch, which is a tad confusing to the reader and harms the overall quality of the book.

As an author James C. Goodale, quickly and openly expressed bias that might show within the pages of this book outside of his occupation as the Times’ general counsel.  Self-describing himself as part of the ‘Eastern Establishment’ and politically opposed to Richard Nixon, Goodale gives the reader fair warning as to overall assessment of the political environment in the early 1970s.  With this in mind, Goodale gives an overview of the times which those lived through, or were well read in, the period would easily understand but tad harder for those less knowledgeable.  The legal terms and procedures were well explained by Goodale for the reader and kept the text easy to follow.

Fighting for the Press is a book not only about an important case in American legal and journalistic history for the general reader, but most importantly for historians and journalists.  While this book is excellent for a student of history, it is to journalists and journalism students that I greatly recommend this book.  If Goodale’s purpose was to give journalists a history and knowledge of their First Amendment rights and continual challenges, he succeeded without question.

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