Does Freedom Of The Press Extend To State Secrets?

Jun 13, 2011

Though the public has a right to know about the government's inner workings, does transparency compromise national security?

Some argue that restricting the media's ability to publish secrets will reduce government accountability, but others say revealing too much could make it difficult to protect American citizens.

In one recent case, the organization WikiLeaks exposed thousands of secret military and diplomatic cables on its websites and through major media organizations.

Four experts recently debated the issue as a matter of national security. They faced off two against two in an Oxford-style debate on the motion "Freedom of the Press Does Not Extend to State Secrets."

Before the debate, part of the Intelligence Squared U.S. series, the audience at New York University's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts voted 39 percent in favor of the motion and 31 percent against, with 30 percent undecided. After the debate, 46 percent supported the motion and 47 percent opposed it — making the side arguing against the motion "Freedom of the Press Does Not Extend to State Secrets" the winners of the debate. Seven percent remained undecided.

John Donvan, correspondent for ABC News' Nightline, moderated the debate on June 8. Those debating:


Former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff is currently senior of counsel at Covington & Burlington LLP. Chertoff served as a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and as a federal prosecutor for more than a decade.

Gabriel Schoenfeld is the author of Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law. Schoenfeld is currently a resident scholar at the Witherspoon Institute and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. He was senior editor at Commentary from 1994 to 2008.


Alan Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard Law School. He is currently on the legal defense team for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Dershowitz has written 27 fiction and nonfiction works, including Finding, Framing and Hanging Jefferson: A Lost Letter, A Remarkable Discovery, and Freedom of Speech in an Age of Terrorism.

As The New York Times' chief Washington correspondent, David Sanger is part of the team of reporters and editors covering WikiLeaks. Sanger has reported from New York, Tokyo and Washington during his 27-year career at the Times, covering issues such as foreign policy, globalization and nuclear proliferation.

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