Another View: Judge’s Order Against The New York Times Cannot Stand | Editorials
The language is clear and unambiguous: “Congress will not make any law… restricting freedom of speech or of the press.
In practice, this means that with very rare exceptions no one in government can tell a newspaper what to print. No one – not the president or a senator, or an agency bureaucrat or a sitting judge.
Yet New York State Supreme Court Justice Charles D. Wood did in an order just before Christmas, banning the New York Times from publishing documents the newspaper obtained about Project Veritas, a group of right-wing activists. .
The order represents an unprecedented violation of the First Amendment and the idea of a free and independent press. He cannot be allowed to stand.
There is little comfort in the fact that Justice Wood’s order has already been partially lifted. A New York state appeals court on Tuesday lifted the portion of the order requiring The Times to turn over or destroy the documents in question.
However, the newspaper still cannot report anything from the documents until a new hearing is held.
While this can be a sign that reason will eventually prevail, it is more than disconcerting that a judge will make the order in the first place.
The documents are legal notes prepared for Project Veritas years ago, outlining strategies they can use to ensure their often deceptive practices – including secret cameras and false identities used to embarrass opponents – remain on the right side of the law.
The Times obtained the memos legally through regular reporting – doing its job. He released some of their content as part of his report on a Justice Department investigation into Project Veritas into the group’s possible role in the theft of a diary belonging to President Biden’s daughter.
In an earlier unrelated case, Project Veritas sued The Times for libel. The group argued, and Justice Wood agreed, that because of the ongoing litigation, the journal’s use of the memos constitutes a violation of its attorney-client privilege.
This is hogwash. The newspaper’s reporting on Project Veritas is clearly in the public interest and within its rights as a news organization. The memos have nothing to do with the litigation between the group and the newspaper, and everything to do with how a leading organization seeking publicity engages with the public.
To say otherwise would have what one media lawyer called the “ultimate chilling effect.” Organizations that have found themselves the target of critical newspaper reporting could sue them and then argue that any subsequent reporting should be gagged as a result of that lawsuit.
In addition, Justice Wood’s order left no room for other courts to address it. If The Times had been forced to destroy the documents, any future decision in their favor would be moot.
Fortunately, the court of appeal acted first. They shouldn’t have had to.
The case has been resolved for at least 50 years, when a judge refused to allow the Nixon administration to block The Times and The Washington Post from publishing details of classified documents detailing the history of US involvement. United in Vietnam, nicknamed the Pentagon Papers.
This decision, and others, set the limits. Troop movements in wartime may be a matter of national security and therefore within the limits of a government publication ban. But the government’s handling of a war and its sincere feelings about how that war plays out are in the public interest and subject to First Amendment protections, as are the operations of a group like Project Veritas.
It should be clear, and until Justice Wood’s ruling it had been as clear as any legal precedent.
Courts should take this opportunity to reaffirm the rights to free speech and an open press, and prevent the government from crossing a border that is at the heart of our democracy.
The Portland, Maine Press Herald