NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute’s First Amendment Watch, an online resource offering coverage and context to the debate over freedom of expression, dives inside the Pentagon Papers, whose publication led to a press crisis culminating in a landmark 1971 Supreme Court decision. The case is the centerpiece of the recently released film “The Post,” starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.
“The Post” dramatizes the Washington Post’s decision to print the Pentagon Papers—Department of Defense documents that chronicled the United States’ involvement in Vietnam and revealed how the Johnson Administration misled Congress and the public on the nature of the conflict. The decision to publish the illegally obtained documents raised a host of constitutional concerns, balancing freedom of expression against governmental claims of national security.
The analyses of the film’s lessons, the importance of New York Times v. Unites States, and the meaning of prior restraint may be found here.
Launched this fall, First Amendment Watch (www.FirstAmendmentWatch.org) tracks contemporary threats to the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and petition, posting stories as they arise, along with related content to better inform the conversation. Through daily updates, analysis, access to relevant legal cases, and historical background, First Amendment Watch includes extensive resources for educators, journalists, and a thoughtful public eager to keep up with current controversies and understand how First Amendment principles apply to them.
Stephen Solomon, a professor at the Carter Journalism Institute, is the site’s founding editor and Tatiana Serafin, a contributing editor to Forbes, is its managing editor.
Since its launch, First Amendment Watch (FAW) has provided context for many contentious issues—explaining, for example, how “Taking a Knee” is a form of symbolic speech, going back to colonial protests against the British. FAW is also following current Supreme Court First Amendment cases, including the Masterpiece Cake case, as well as tracking the current controversies over hate speech on college campuses. The site’s goal is to create shared learning and engage readers in understanding how to protect their First Amendment rights.
In recent weeks, FAW has established a partnership with the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center and added additional sections: book excerpts from leading First Amendment authors and excerpts from historical documents defending the First Amendment.
Solomon, who teaches First Amendment law at the Carter Journalism Institute, authored Revolutionary Dissent: How the Founding Generation Created the Freedom of Speech (St. Martin’s Press, 2016), which explored the birth of freedom of expression in America’s founding period, as well as Ellery’s Protest: How One Young Man Defied Tradition and Sparked the Battle Over School Prayer (University of Michigan Press, 2009), which chronicled the controversial Supreme Court case that ended state-sponsored prayer and Bible reading in the public schools. He is one of the panel of 15 experts who contribute to the quarterly report card on the state of the First Amendment produced by the Newseum Institute.
Serafin, an adjunct professor of journalism at Marymount Manhattan College, has covered issues of press freedom for various publications, including “I, Journalist,” for the Seventh Wave. She was previously a staff writer at Forbes and then co-editor of the magazine’s billionaires list, initiating coverage of billionaires in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.