Obama’s Battles With The Press Do Not Rival Nixon: New York Times v. United States

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President Barak Obama has received criticism in the wake of reports that the Justice Department seized phone records for telephone lines used by reporters and editors at The Associated Press. The government was trying to determine the source of leaked information in an AP article about a CIA operation that prevented an al-Qaida bomb plot.

This is not the first time that a government investigation of media leaks has triggered the ire of civil liberties groups. In fact, it pales in comparison to the controversies during the Nixon Administration, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in New York Times Co. v. United States or better-known as the “Pentagon Papers” case.

The Facts of the Case

President Richard Nixon sought to use his executive authority to prevent the New York Times and the Washington Post from publishing the contents of a classified study entitled "History of U.S. Decision-Making Process on Viet Nam Policy.” The administration argued that prior restraint was needed to protect national security, citing several provisions of the Espionage Act.

The question before the Court was whether the executive branch’s need to maintain the secrecy of information can trump the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press.

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