The Press, The Pentagon Papers and The Post

When The New York Times, followed by The Washington Post and other newspapers, published Pentagon Papers-based articles they were exercising freedom of the press that was affirmed in 1971 in The New York Times Company v. United States and in United States v. The Washington Post et. al. The movie, The Post, tells the story of Daniel Ellsberg, the leak of thousands of pages of “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Task Force,” and Katharine Graham’s decision to publish articles based in them.
Download Classroom Worksheets (PDF) 

We focus on The Post, the movie.  It is 1971.

• A nation accepts its values and world leadership role, then questions — and protests — its responsibility for other nations, its commitment to military involvement and its own security.

• American society’s view of women in the workplace had changed with WWII. In the 1970s its views of women in the boardroom are challenged.

• American political leaders are faced in the streets, on university campuses, upon front pages of newspapers and even within Congress with people exercising the rights and philosophy of the Founding Fathers found in the First Amendment to the Constitution — freedoms of religion, speech, redress of grievances, assembly and press.


To appreciate the movie fully, teachers and their students need some background on the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers that resulted from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s commissioning of “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Task Force,” and Daniel Ellsberg. We offer suggestions for using The Post, movie and newspaper, in U.S. History, U.S. Government, humanities and journalism classrooms. The “Timeline: France and the U.S. in Vietnam,” activities involving statements made by U.S. presidents, Herblock editorial cartoons and guest commentary are provided in two resource guides: Freedom of the Press and Ethics and Presidents Say. The third resource guide, The Post, The Movie, provides activities and resources to discuss, debate and write about the movie.


The First Amendment is central to the movie and to today's media. When the Nixon administration takes legal action to stop The New York Times from publishing articles based in the Pentagon Papers, questions of national security, the right of the public to know, and the right of the press to inform the public of government actions — even in the times of war — must be answered. Within days The Washington Post, and then other newspapers, publish articles from the leaked classified documents. The Supreme Court hears the cases in special session. 


While attacks on the press take different forms, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) reminds us in his January 17, 2018, Post guest commentary:
“Ultimately, freedom of information is critical for a democracy to succeed. We become better, stronger and more effective societies by having an informed and engaged public that pushes policymakers to best represent not only our interests but also our values. Journalists play a major role in the promotion and protection of democracy and our unalienable rights, and they must be able to do their jobs freely. Only truth and transparency can guarantee freedom.”


January 2018

On Every Size Screen
Resource Graphic 

Develop Vocabulary
English, Journalism, Media Literacy, Reading, U.S. History

Students should be encouraged to develop their personal vocabulary across the curriculum. The In the Know section always provides vocabulary related to the month’s Post curriculum guide. In addition, vocabulary development can be found with the Word Find and “Vietnam, Presidents and the Pentagon Papers” activity. “Cinematic Vocabulary” should enhance discussing The Post, completing  "After Viewing The Post," and writing a movie review.


Find Terms
English, Social Studies, U.S. History
Pentagon Papers and the Press” should give younger students a challenge to find the 26 words and names. Teachers might have students work in pairs to find the words and then to write about the suggested topics. Teachers might also use the word find as a jumping off point for a study of the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers or challenges to freedom of the press. A key to the word find is provided in Freedom of the Press and Ethics.


Review the Timeline
Media Literacy, Social Studies, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Topics covered in this month’s curriculum guide — American engagement in Vietnam, the Pentagon Papers and resulting Supreme Court case combine to create an ideal unit of study for a humanities (U.S. History/English or U.S. Government/English), stand-alone or journalism class.


Timeline: France and the U.S. in Vietnam” can be used to give students perspective on the decades of French colonial presence in Southeast Asia, when and to what extent America became involved in Vietnam, and what was happening, according to the Pentagon Papers, in the late 1960s and 1970s. This should help explain Spielberg’s opening scenes of the movie, as well.


Teachers in different disciplines should find these online exhibits helpful:
Remembering Vietnam
Vietnam War


Establish Press Freedom
English, Journalism, Media Literacy, U.S. Government, U.S. History

An introduction to the First Amendment easily takes place in Social Studies, U.S. History, Civics or Journalism I classes. The five guaranteed rights are accompanied with civic responsibilities to exercise them. Teachers are encouraged to discuss these rights, what they meant when they were ratified and how citizens today enjoy and expect them.


Why Would the Government Try to Suppress the Press?
Journalism, U.S. Government, U.S. History

In 1971 freedom of the press was challenged when the Nixon administration filed an injunction against The New York Times Co. to stop any further publication from or about a report commissioned by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in 1967.


Introduce students to the 1971 Supreme Court case New York Times Company v. United States. This case was heard together with United States v. The Washington Post et. al.  The front page of the June 18, 1971, Post and one of the first Pentagon Papers-based articles published by The Washington Post, “Documents Reveal U.S. Effort in ’54 to Delay Viet Election,” may be read to see how the report’s contents were used.


The First Amendment and The New York Times Company v. United States” can be used to guide a study of the circumstances, the principles and the court case.


Teachers might include listening to the Fresh Air interview with Katharine Graham or read chapter 22 from Graham’s memoir, Personal History. (Chapter 21 will also give a broader picture of Mrs. Graham taking on the positions of publisher and president of the Post Co., a woman in a man’s world.)


At the end of this lesson, students need to understand the Supreme Court’s decision. As stated by Justice Hugo Black for the majority: Government could not stop a newspaper from publishing a confidential document related to national security unless it could establish that the publication would cause “direct, immediate and irreparable damage to the nation or its people.”


Who Has the Right to Know?
Debate, Journalism, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Teachers, in preparation for this activity, students should be familiar with the Pentagon Papers and the Supreme Court decision in New York Times Company v. United States. Resources you may use are “The First Amendment and The New York Times Company v. United States,”  Pentagon Papers (Ellsberg) Trial (1973), and “Did the Pentagon Papers matter? You are provided an excerpt from the majority decision of Justice Hugo Black. The Washington Post's "What is a whistleblower: How to be a journalist" video also provides an introduction to this concept. Daniel Ellsberg is included in those who are interviewed.


In “You and Your Rights: What About Today? Who Has a Right to Know?” students are given three scenarios to apply the Supreme Court decision, the 1917 Espionage Act and the Whistleblower Protection Act. These may be handled in teams to research the questions and present to the class, in teams to debate or for individual end-of-unit papers. Suggested responses are provided for teachers.


Face Photographic Ethics In War Coverage
Art, Journalism, Media Ethics, U.S. History, Visual Literacy

Photographers, as well as many reporters, must be where action is taking place — embedded with troops, in the streets and homes of people under attack, in refugee camps and observing official meetings. Many of their images are startling and revealing of inhumane acts and conditions. Should they be published? This is a question of the public’s need and right to know.


See “The Photographs That Brought the War Home.” In a Post interview, Ken Burns gives insight into the still and video images included in his documentary Vietnam. The Eddie Adams’ photograph he describes is in the Newseum’s “A War Over Truth” gallery guide. In the second article, Michael Ruane reports the story behind the photograph of soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam.


Additional photographs from the Vietnam War are online in the National Archives DOCSTeach primary sources for classroom activities section.  Use “Vietnam” as a search term. Students might be asked to find photographs to illustrate “France and the U.S. in Vietnam” timeline. The National Archives Education Team also provides activities using Vietnam photographs and documents in the Archives collection.  

Visit the Newseum
Journalism, Media Literacy, Photography, U.S. Government, U.S. History, Visual Arts
The Newseum exhibit, A War Over Truth: ‘Reporting Vietnam,’ focuses on the reporters and photographers who covered the conflict in Vietnam. The museum has provided an online guide that teachers may find helpful before, during and after a visit.


Two examples of editors facing the decision to publish or not to publish won Pulitzer Prizes for Nick Ut and Eddie Adams who were photographing the conflict in Vietnam.


Use page 2 of the Newseum’s “A War Over Truth: ‘Reporting Vietnam’ Gallery Guide.”

The Pentagon Papers and Freedom of Speech
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Ponder the President and the Press
Debate, Journalism, U.S. Government, U.S. History

In “The Presidents Say” U.S. presidents from Harry Truman to Richard Nixon are quoted from speeches and other sources. In addition a summary of U.S. involvement in Vietnam at the time gives context. Teachers may use the quotations to compare or debate presidential points of view, to use with newspaper coverage at the same times, and/or to discuss how and why what presidents say to the public may not coincide with facts or behind-closed-doors interactions. Another layer of depth can be added by including “Timeline: France and the U.S. in Vietnam” and the Pentagon Papers to put the presidents’ comments in context or to discuss the impact of colonialism and appeal of democracy.


The president’s attitude toward and use of the press may influence journalists who work abroad as well as at home. To prepare for discussion of this update on the topic from the perspective of 2018, teachers may have students listen to “Bizarre Truth Triangle: The President, The Public and The Press,” 1A show from Jan. 18, 2018.


Use the Timeline
Art, Journalism, U.S. Government, U.S. History, Visual Literacy

Teachers may assign research groups to use “Timeline: France and the U.S. in Vietnam” as a starting point in a presidents and war project. All material within quotation marks in the timeline is from the National Archives Pentagon Papers.

Only a few items from each time period appears in the timeline. Students might be asked to focus on a five-year period or decade to read the Pentagon Papers and select three to five more events, decisions or people to add to the timeline. They might pair the items they find with news articles or with photographs.

Teachers could give students "Vietnam, Presidents and the Pentagon Papers," to complete as they read "Timeline: France and the U.S. in Vietnam."


What Did President Lyndon B. Johnson Say?
U.S. Government, U.S. History
You may give students an exercise to see what they can find about President Lyndon B. Johnson. During his presidency American troops in Vietnam reached more than half a million.  

Presidential libraries, have many online resources. Likewise, universities have special programs and affiliates, such as the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, that “strive to illuminate presidential and political history accurately and fairly.”

Here are some starting points for your students:

LBJ Presidential Library
• April 27, 1961: “President and the Press” Speech
• September 29, 1967: LBJ Speech on Vietnam
• December 19, 1967: A Conversation with President Lyndon Johnson
• Breaking from President Johnson, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, gave his “Unwinnable War Speech” on Feb. 8, 1968. Compare and contrast what he states to what the presidents, including his brother John F. Kennedy, have said. He presents five illusions and nine lessons.
• "The Presidents Say

• And for a different approach: Jody Powell Oral History, White House press secretary. What is the role of the press secretary

The University of Virginia, Miller Center, archive of Secret White House Tapes were utilized in the making of the Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War series. Eight of them are gathered here for insight into three administrations (Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon).


Reexamine 1968
Journalism, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Teachers may look at one year — 1968 — to give background before viewing the movie, The Post. Fifty years later, it can be viewed as “the decade’s most iconic, tumultuous year.” Begin by reading “Reexamining the chaos of 1968 without nostalgia” by Michael S. Rosenwald.


Some of the highlights to include when reviewing 1968:
• Our timeline does not include events in 1968. Have students read the Pentagon Papers for that year and add items.
• The war in Vietnam was not going well; more than a half a million U.S. troops were there, and U.S. combat deaths took place at about 46 per day.
• On March 31, 1968, during his speech on Vietnam, President Lyndon B. Johnson announces, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.”
• Assassination: In April, Martin Luther King Jr., and in June, Robert F. Kennedy
• In November, Richard Nixon is elected president


Read an Editorial Cartoon
Art, U.S. Government, U.S. History, Visual Arts

Herblock was The Washington Post’s editorial cartoonist for more than 55 years. His first daily cartoon, published on April 24, 1929, in the Chicago Daily News, focused on the environment. His final cartoon, published on August 26, 2001, criticized unilateralism in U.S. foreign policy. He commented on ethics, education and the environment; immigration, foreign affairs, war and peace; U.S. presidents from Herbert Hoover to Bill Clinton. He followed Richard Nixon from his days in Congress to his resignation.

We provide four political cartoons from the last two decades of American involvement in Vietnam. Give students “Herblock and the Vietnam Era” and the discussion questions, “Herblock: Read the Editorial Cartoons.”

Teachers may ask students to draw an editorial cartoon that comments on one of today’s issues.


 What About Now?
Health, Journalism, U.S. Government, U.S. History
A number of different topics can be discussed when students look at what is happening now in their communities and how similar topics were handled years before. This might be done with reading articles or made more immediate with interviews of those who fought in Vietnam or more recent combat, those who protested and those who protest today, those who were injured and those who face the frailties of aging.

Possible topics and Post articles to begin discussion of the topic include:
• Health care of veterans when they return from battle and years later. “Reverberations From War Complicate Veterans’ End-of-Life Care” by April Dembosky, January 4, 2018
• Public and veterans remember. “The ‘lucky ones’: Fifty years after Vietnam’s bloodiest battles, veterans gather for what could be a final reunion”
• “Fear and faith after Khe Sahn: A 77-day siege during the Vietnam War still haunts a retired Navy chaplain 50 years later”
• Protest against government actions or inaction. “The day anti-Vietnam War protesters tried to levitate the Pentagon” by Katie Mettler, originally published October 19, 2017 (includes video of demonstrators)



Compare and Contrast
English, Social Studies, U.S. History

Contrasting Facts and Points of View” is provided for students to compare and contrast two people, issues or actions. Possible topics for comparison and contrast:

• The points of view of those who encouraged publication of the Pentagon Papers and those who were against publication (now or ever)

• “Compare The Post to Katharine Graham’s memoir, Personal History
• Compare the Ben Bradlee portrayed in the movie to Bradlee in his memoir, A Good Life
• Select a key moment in the Vietnam conflict, compare what the press reported to what the president or secretary of defense stated

• The Washington Post published its first Pentagon Papers-based article, “Documents Reveal U.S. Effort In ’54 to Delay Viet Election.” Compare and contrast it to the first New York Times Pentagon Papers-based article.
• Katharine Graham at the beginning of the film to The Post owner at the moment of decision and after.


Another approach is to compare and contrast while asking if Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden are hero, traitor or responsible citizen.

• Why did Dr. Daniel Ellsberg say he released these documents to the press?

• Did Daniel Ellsberg perform an act of treason?

• Does the public have a right to know what the government is doing?

To answer these questions, teachers might use The New York Times’ Learning Network lesson: Text to Text | Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg.


 Another resource is “The NSA Leaks and the Pentagon Papers: What’s the Difference Between Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg?” in The Atlantic magazine.

Read About The Pentagon Papers and More

This section focuses on the movie, The Post. We provide several handouts as well as links to additional Post articles and interviews. Teachers will decide which of these resources to use before viewing the movie, during the movie (when the video is available) and after viewing the movie.
• “Fact checking ‘The Post’: The incredible Pentagon Papers drama Spielberg left out
The People
The Post, The Movie
After Viewing The Post
What Meryl Streep and ‘The Post’ can teach us about the power of being a female boss
Cinematic Vocabulary


Suggestions for using these and other resources follow.


Talk About The Post
English, Film Study, Journalism, Theater Arts, U.S. Government, U.S. History, Visual Arts

The Washington Post offers articles, transcripts from interviews and video to take readers and viewers of the movie behind the scenes.

Everything You Wanted to Know About The Post

• “Transcript: Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks talk new movie at The Washington Post” — print and video 

• “Fact checking ‘The Post’: The incredible Pentagon Papers drama Spielberg left out

• “Big Ben

 • “’The Post’ movie and the Pentagon Papers: Inside the newsroom with former editor Len Downie”

• “Transcript: Tom Hanks and Marty Baron on ‘The Post’ Movie”
• "I had a front-row seat to the Pentagon Papers intrigue. Here's what happened." 


For additional reading on people who appear in the movie and their journalism careers.

• “How Kay Graham Looked at Life
• “Mrs. Graham’s Legacy: Fearlessness”
• “Katharine Graham Dies at 84

• “Lally Graham Weymouth Recalls the Decision to Publish The Pentagon Papers

• “Elizabeth ‘Lally’ Weymouth: The Washington Post’s Last Graham”

Ben H. Bagdikian, journalist with key role in Pentagon Papers case, dies at 96”


Discuss or Take a Movie Quiz
English, Theater Arts, U.S. Government, U.S. History, Visual Arts
Three main handouts are provided to facilitate discussion of The Post, the movie.

• “The People”  — Match the people with their jobs

• “The Post, The Movie” — 10 questions and a bonus to discuss Spielburg’s directorial decisions, the movie’s real-life connections and achieving verisimilitude, villains and heroes, money and motive, and First Amendment relevancy

• “After Viewing The Post” — From opening scenes to movie’s end, 20 fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice and short-answer questions to test students’ viewing or to discuss the movie more fully


Students might also be asked to write three to five fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice questions about the movie. Of course, they need to provide answers. They could also lead group or class discussion of one of the questions. 


Think About Themes
English, Journalism, Theater Arts, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Discuss the concepts present in the movie. Students could be asked to begin with these ideas and refine the wording to relate what the movie presents through this real-life-based story.

• The role of the press as a watchdog of government and power.

• The power of the executive branch to stop the press from running stories, especially when national security is at stake. Read “At Washington screening for ‘The Post,’ Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg find parallels to Nixon era.”

 • Are whistleblowers criminals or heroes?

• Financial stability of a media organization confrounts its mission to inform the public

• The changing role of women in business. Read “What Meryl Streep and ‘The Post’ can teach us about the power of being a female boss.”

• The significance of the First Amendment in today’s society.


Write a Movie review
English, Media Studies, Theater Arts

Give students “Cinematic Vocabulary” so they will have the language to express what they have observed and to give clarity to their ideas. You may also discuss if movies based on real events have an additional expectation: Can it be a “good movie,” but “bad history”?


Ann Hornaby, The Post’s film critic, wrote a review that includes the kind of information that an informed or knowledgeable individual can bring to a review. Read “In ‘The Post’ Streep and Hanks lead a stirring homage to the pursuit of truth.” 


Teachers can ask students to locate Hornaby’s

• inclusion of background/context and themes,

• assessment of the performances, casting, cinematography and score,

• view of director’s choices, and

• recommendation to see or not to see the movie.


Guidelines for writing a movie review may be found in previous Post curriculum guides:

The Movie Review(er)
“Write a Theater Review” found in Art and Democracy



Teachers will find the following articles and video useful resources for discussing the film and writing a movie review:

• “Behind the Scenes of ‘The Post’ with Screenwriter Liz Hannah

• 60 Minutes: “The real journalists behind The Post

• “Washington Post employees review ‘The Post’ movie

• “Becoming Ben Bradlee: Watch Tom Hanks impersonate the legendary Washington Post editor”

• “‘The Post’ and the forgotten security guard who discovered the Watergate break-in


Post NIE Guide Editor | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter

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In The Know 

Editor Individual who offers leadership of a publication in content decisions, establishing standards and expectations and creating the working atmosphere; may guide a reporter or reporting team in determining focus, continuing reporting and locating most reliable sources. This person may also serve as a copy editor before publishing.
Espionage Act (1917)

Intended to bring charges against spies, prohibit interference with military operations or recruitment, and prevent support for enemies of the U.S. Few people have been prosecuted since 1917; eight of these people were prosecuted during the Obama Administration. Those charged include Eugene V. Debs, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.


Inspector General

Under the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended, OIG [Office of Inspector General] is authorized to carry out both investigations and audits to “promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in the administration of, and … prevent and detect fraud and abuse in … [the Department’s] programs and operations.” Through its investigative and audit findings and recommendations, OIG helps protect and strengthen Departmental programs and operations.

As part of our mission, we conduct investigations that involve employees, management officials, and affected Departmental programs and operations. OIG investigations can include both criminal, civil and administrative matters. In OIG of the Federal Communications Commission, for example: “Allegations are received primarily from FCC employees and licensees. However, members of Congress, other agencies, citizens, contractors and public interest groups also refer matters to the OIG for investigation. Allegations of suspected wrongdoing are also received from FCC managers and the OIG audit program.”  

Investigative Journalism  Area of journalism in which one topic or focus receives extensive reporting; this may require weeks, months or years to confirm information, through interviews, research and eyewitness/travel experience. An aspect of journalism’s watchdog role.
Journalist  Professional who writes for newspapers, magazines, news websites and broadcasts; the Society of Professional Journalists provides a code of ethics. There are also citizen journalists and bloggers who or may not practice these standards.
 Leak When a government insider (employee, former employee or contractor) shares secret information about the government with a journalist
Prior Restraint 

Government banning of expression of ideas before their publication; based on the principle the freedom of speech is essential to a free society


Individual or group making a disclosure evidencing illegal or improper government, business or organization activities such as violating a law, wasting money or knowingly polluting the environment; not illegal to be a whistleblower. The Whistleblower Protection Act is intended to protect those who provide such information.


See resource guides for additional vocabulary development: Freedom of the Press and Ethics, Presidents Say? and The Movie.



ANSWERS. The First Amendment and The New York Times Company v. United States

1. a. religion, b. speech, c. press, d. assembly, e. redress the government for grievances; teachers should cover all 45 words with students. 2. Answers will vary, but should include the right of citizens to know (the old town crier). They are not living in an autocracy. 3. a. Answers may include: The president and elected officials are to serve the people and seek the common good, not personal gain. Also, the government is a guardian of the nation’s resources. If any of its duties are not being done, the public has the right to know. b. Answers will vary. Consider what Judge Murray Gurfein stated: “A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, an ubiquitous press, must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know.” c. Answers will vary. They may include concern for security. 4. Accountablility requires taking responsibility and being able to explain why certain actions, policies and speeches were made in the name of the American people. This is part of the watchdog role of the press. 5. a. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967 commissioned a history of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia; finished in 1969, the documents came to be known as the Pentagon Papers.  b. They provide actual reports, numbers, losses and successes, esp. in Vietnam c. He knew certain senators were against the continued American involvement in the conflict in Vietnam; they could read the papers from the Senate floor. d. In his memoir, Ellsberg writes,“Only The Times might publish the entire study, and it had the prestige to carry it through.”  6. a. Answers will vary. b. Teachers should be sure that students have accurate and latest information. This may be done in three groups to gather, organize and present information. 7. Answers will vary. 8. a. Answers will vary. b. Answers will vary.


ANSWERS. Historic Context: Vietnam and The Pentagon Papers

1. Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam

2. May 1950, sent “economic aid and military equipment to the Associated States of Indochina and France …” Before in 1945, U.S. had provided “modest aid” to France but clearly had no intention of involvement.

3. Robert McNamara in 1967; 4. January 15, 1969, Clark Clifford; 5. June 1971, Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, strategic analyst at RAND Corporation; 6. c; 7. Neil Sheehan, a reporter at The New York Times, b; 8. a; 9. a; 10. c.


ANSWERS. The People

1. c, 2. i, 3. f, 4. l, 5. b, 6. k, 7. e, 8. h, 9. a, 10. g, 11. d, 12. j


ANSWERS. Who Has a Right to Know?

Scenario One: Tips, Sources and the Press. Responses may include:

1. The Whistleblower Protection Act states that the employee who discloses information “reasonably believes” the information “evidences a ‘violation of any law, rule, or regulation’ or evidences ‘gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety’ is protected on the condition that the disclosure is not prohibited by law nor required to be kept secret by Executive Order.”

       Teachers may ask students to review the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of United States v Morison in 1988 (844F2d 1057 (4th Cir. 04/01/1988). Samuel Morison, a civilian Navy analyst, was convicted in federal court of violating the Espionage Act of 1918. He passed a secret satellite photo of a Soviet aircraft carrier to Jane’s Defense Weekly. His conviction was upheld upon appeal.


2. Answers will vary.

3. In addition to the First Amendment, teachers may ask students to consider the Supreme Court decision in New York Times Company v. United States. In addition, Daniel Ellsberg was charged in 1973 under the Espionage Act of 1917 for leaking documents he had accessed while employed by the RAND Corporation. He had tried to get sympathetic U.S. Senators to release what became known as the Pentagon Papers on the Senate floor for the record. Because individuals acting under Nixon White House staffers broke into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to get medical records to discredit him and illegal wiretapping, the charges were dismissed.

4. Responses will vary. Be sure students have supported their responses with an understanding of the media.


Scenario Two: When Is a Secret a True Secret? Responses may include:

1. Answers may include the motive for her sharing information, does she have something personal to gain or does she seek revenge? How did she acquire this information?

2. Perhaps teachers may want to review conversation on the reliability of news sources and verification of information given to members of the news media.  

3. Depending on your level of involvement with the documents, you will know the intent, purpose, and result of a company’s actions before considering sharing it. Some bloggers have expertise in the content of the blogs; at the same time, other bloggers state opinions without regard to facts, circumstances or reliability of sources. Readers must be aware of the source; the more sensitive the topics, the more important that the blogger verifies information that is related.

4. Answers will vary. Dr. Soenksen adds this update on bloggers, media law and ethics:

No court ruling that I’m aware of has defined when a blogger is treated at a “traditional journalist.” “Bloggers,” a study conducted by the Pew Research Center sheds some light on how bloggers view themselves. The main issue that has arisen in literature is the lack of vetting by some bloggers. A variety of verification sites have been created to aid readers allowing them to use blogs and verify conclusions using independent tools. Also, the issue of a lack of professional training in the mass communication law and media ethics has been emphasized.


Scenario Three: The Whistleblower. Responses may include:

1. Answers will vary. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the National Security Agency “is the independent agent for individual and organizational integrity within the Agency. Through professional inspections, audits, and investigations, we work to ensure that the Agency respects Constitutional rights, obeys laws and regulations, treats its employees and affiliates fairly, and uses public resources wisely to accomplish its mission. We also work with other IGs in the Defense and Intelligence Communities to advance these common goals.”

2. Answers will vary. Information concerning the Espionage Act of 1917 can be found (Ch. 30, tit. I § 3, 40 Stat.217, 219). It passed while the country was involved in World War I.  The portion that deals with espionage criminalizes “obtaining information respecting the national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information to be obtained is to be used to the injury of the United States.”  The act was upheld by the Supreme Court in three cases, Schenck v. UnitedStates, 249 U.S. 47, 39 S.Ct. 247, 63 L.Ed. 470, (U.S.Pa 1919); Frohwerk v. United States,   249 U.S.204, 39 S.Ct. 249, 63 L.Ed. 561 (U.S.Mo. 1919); and Debs v. United States, 249 U.S. 211, 39 S.Ct. 252, 63 L.Ed. 566, (U.S.Ohio 1919). 

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

Social Studies, Grade 11. Students trace the origins and geopolitical consequences (foreign and domestic of the Cold War and containment policy.
1. Describe the role of military and other alliances, including NATO, SEATO, and the Alliance for Progress, in deterring communist aggression and maintaining security during the Cold War. (P, M)
2. Explain how the world was divided into two realms, the free world and the communist world, led by two superpowers, and explain how these “worlds” competed with each other (spying, misinformation and disinformation campaigns, sabotage, and infiltration).
8. Outline the Vietnam War, including diplomatic and military policies of presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and the rise of social activism. (P, M, S)
9. Explain the Domino Theory, containment, and modern colonialism. (P, S) (11.9 Cold War America to the New Millennium, 1947-2003)

Social Studies, Grade 12. Students summarize landmark U.S. Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution and its amendments. (12.4)

  1. Understand the changing interpretations of the Bill of Rights over time, including interpretations of the basic freedoms (religion, speech, press, petition, and assembly) articulated in the First Amendment and the due process and equal-protection-of-the-law clauses of the 14th Amendment.

Social Studies, Grade 12. Students evaluate and take and defend positions on the influence of the media on American political life. (2.7)
1. Discuss the meaning and importance of a free and responsible press.
2. Describe the roles of broadcast, print, and electronic media, including the Internet, as means of communication in American politics.
3. Explain how public officials use the media to communicate with the citizenry and to shape public opinion.


The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.



Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Government. The student will demonstrate an understanding of the historical development and current status of principles, institutions, and processes of political systems. (Goal 1 Political Systems)

The student will analyze historic documents to determine the basic principles of the United States government and apply them to real-world situations. (1.1.1)

• Students are to know which rights/protections are addressed by the first ten amendments.


Government. The student will evaluate how the principles of government assist or impede the functioning of government.

• Concepts: federalism, separation of powers, checks and balances, judicial review, representative democracy, limited government, rule of law, individual rights and responsibilities, consent of the governed, majority rule, popular sovereignty, equal protection, and eminent domain. (1.1.2)


Government. The student will evaluate how the United States government has maintained a balance between protecting rights and maintaining order. (1.2)

• The student will analyze the impact of landmark Supreme Court decisions on governmental powers, rights, and responsibilities of citizens in our changing society. (1.2.1)

• The student will evaluate the impact of governmental decisions and actions that have affected the rights of individuals and groups in American society and/or have affected maintaining order and/or safety. (1.2.3) Includes national government agencies’ actions affecting rights, order and/or safety.

The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at 

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

US History 1865 to Present, The United States since World War II. The student will demonstrate knowledge of the economic, social, and political transformation of the United States and the world between the end of World War II and the present by
c) identifying the role of America’s military and veterans in defending freedom during the Cold War, including the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the Cuban missile crisis, the collapse of communism in Europe, and the rise of new challenges; (USII.8)


United States Government. The student will demonstrate mastery of the social studies skills responsible citizenship requires, including the ability to

a)   analyze primary and secondary source documents;

b)   create and interpret maps, diagrams, tables, charts, graphs, and spreadsheets;

c)   analyze political cartoons, political advertisements, pictures, and other graphic media;

d)   distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information;

e)   evaluate information for accuracy, separating fact from opinion;

f)   identify a problem, weigh the expected costs and benefits and possible consequences of proposed solutions, and recommend solutions, using a decision-making model;

g)   select and defend positions in writing, discussion, and debate. (GOVT. 1)


United States Government. The student will demonstrate knowledge of the operation of the federal judiciary by

a)   describing the organization, jurisdiction, and proceedings of federal courts;

c)   describing how the Supreme Court decides cases;

e)   evaluating how the judiciary influences public policy by delineating the power of government and safeguarding the rights of the individual. (GOVT. 10)

United States Government. The student will demonstrate knowledge of civil liberties and civil rights by

a)   examining the Bill of Rights, with emphasis on First Amendment freedoms;

b)   analyzing due process of law expressed in the 5th and 14th Amendments;

c)   explaining selective incorporation of the Bill of Rights;

d)   exploring the balance between individual liberties and the public interest;

e)   explaining every citizen’s right to be treated equally under the law. (GOVT. 11)


Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

English Language Arts >> History/Social Studies >> Key Ideas and Details. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1


English Language Arts >> History/Social Studies >> Craft and Structure. Evaluate authors' differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors' claims, reasoning, and evidence. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.6


English Language Arts >> History/Social Studies >> Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7


Common Core standards may be found at