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Silha Center Update

Geoffrey Stone delivers 21st annual Silha Lecture: "The Freedom of the Press versus The National Security"

The "classic conflict" between the government's legitimate interest in national security and the news media's legitimate interest in freedom of expression is as old as the United States itself, Professor Geoffrey Stone told an overflow audience at Cowles Auditorium at the 21st annual Silha lecture on October 4, 2006. Author of the award-winning book, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism, Stone is currently the Harry Kalven Jr. Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School, where he previously served as dean.

Geoffrey StonesStone defined the conflict as consisting of three components, each governed by different legal standards. The Geoffery Stone's first component is the civil or criminal liability of public employees who leak information to the press; the second, the potential liability of the news media for publishing classified information; and the third, the possibility that reporters could be prosecuted under espionage laws for obtaining classified information.

Citing examples ranging from the "Pentagon Papers" case in 1971 to the more recent jailing of former New York Times reporter Judith Miller and the controversy over the news media's revelation of the classified NSA wiretap program, Stone explained that although public employees who obtain security clearances waive some of their rights to free expression and therefore can be punished for unauthorized disclosure of information, journalists do not. He contended that the government has never met the high standard of demonstrating a "clear and present danger" to justify legal action against journalists who publish leaked information, but cautioned that the Bush administration's threat to prosecute newspapers "is unprecedented in American history, and truly dangerous."

The Silha Lecture is sponsored by a generous endowment provided by the late Otto Silha and his wife, Helen, and is hosted by the SJMC's Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law.

"Judges in J-Schools" program comes to SJMC

judge rick distasoJudge Rick Distaso and Judge Rick Distaso of the Stanislaus County Superior Court in California visited the SJMC on November 29 as part of the "Judges in J-Schools" pilot program, launched this year. Only three journalism schools in the United States were invited to take part in the program by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for the Courts and Media and the National Judicial College, which are sponsoring the initiative. The Judges in J-Schools program is designed to allow judges with extensive experience with the news media to interact with student journalists and share their perspectives.

During his visit, Judge Distaso spoke to reporting, writing, and ethics classes, and also joined faculty and students at an informal lunch in the Murphy Hall Conference Center. The lunch was followed by a conversation led by Silha Professor Jane Kirtley, who arranged the SJMC's participation in the program. Judge Distaso fielded questions about his experiences with the print and broadcast media, both as the prosecutor in the high-profile Scott Peterson murder case, and as a sitting judge. A self-described "media junkie," Judge Distaso raised concerns about sensational press coverage of the courts. But he also acknowledged that covering the judicial branch can be intimidating, and offered tips to young reporters on how best to obtain reliable and accurate information.

"Most of my students had no experience with news coverage of courts, and most had never met a judge," said assistant professor Gary Schwitzer, who hosted Judge Distaso in his ethics class. "This was a rare classroom opportunity to spend time hearing from and talking with a prosecutor-turned-judge."