Academy Curricular Exchange
Columbia Education Center
Social Studies

TITLE:  Freedom of the Press

AUTHOR:  Jim Skvorc, Summit High School, CO


OVERVIEW:  This lesson focuses on the role the press plays
as a "watchdog" for the citizenry.  By examining who two
reporters uncovered the story behind the Watergate break-in,
students see not only the benefits of a free press, but also
the obstacles that can be placed in the way of reporters
trying to gather information.  They also gain insight into
the varying perspectives of reporters, editors, publishers,
and government officials.

OBJECTIVES:  At the conclusion of the lesson, students will
be able to:
  1.  Explain the "watchdog" role of the press.
  2.  Identify varied roles that citizens, reporters, and
      editors play in maintaining a free press.
  3.  Identify value conflicts between freedom of the press
      and other rights.

RESOURCES/MATERIALS:  You will need a VCR, monitor, and a
videotape of "All the President's Men."  In advance of the
lesson, preview the movie.  Cue it up about one hour into
the film, to the scene where Carl Berstein confronts the
public relations executive and secures information about Mr.
Dahlberg.  Plan to end the segment about 30 minutes later,
with the televised clip of Attorney General denying the
story.  The scenes selected for analysis include the
reporters arguing for the importance of the story, the
interview of Dahlberg linking the burglary to CREEP, an
editorial meeting in which various stories are evaluated for
the front page, and a private discussion among the editors
regarding the risks of running the story.
  Text material summarizing the Watergate incident should be
available if this period is unfamiliar to students.  Reading
should be completed in advance so students have context for
viewing the film.

1.   Review with students the First Amendment guarantee of
     freedom of the press:  "Congress shall make no
     law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the
     press."  Ask:  Does this cover TV news?  What other
     media are covered?  (Movies, documentaries, videos,
     radio, tabloids, magazines, books, pamphlets, etc.)
     Ask students what they think a free press really means
     to them.  Explain that they will be seeing a segment of
     a film that provides some insight into the role of the
2.   Ask students to recall what is know about the Watergate
     affair.  (If students lack a knowledge base, provide a
     short lecture or have them review the section of their
     textbook describing the incident.)  You may wish to
     show the beginning and end of the film during lunch or
     some other period for students who wish to see it in
     its entirety.
3.   Explain that students will be viewing a segment of a
     film about the two Washington Post reporters whose
     stories prompted the congressional investigations that
     culminated with the resignation of President Nixon.
     Tell them that you want them to view the film from one
     of four perspectives:  the investigative reporters, the
     editors, the people being investigated (the President
     and his advisors, John Mitchell, the burglars, and
     employees of the Committee to Reelect the President),
     and U.S. citizens.  Divide the class into four groups,
     assigning each a perspective.
4.   Each group should collect information for a large-group
     discussion following the viewing.  Using the
     perspective assigned, students should collect
     information about:
     (1)  The techniques used by investigative reporters.
          What types of questions do they ask?  How do they
          develop sources of information?  What ethical
          standards do they follow?
     (2)  The concerns and work editors in contrast to the
          reporters.  What risks are involved in running a
          controversial story such as this?  What ethical
          standards do editors follow?
     (3)  How people being investigated respond to the
          press.  How does it feel to have a call from
          reporters?  Are people honest in their remarks?
5.   Following the film segment, ask students to work
     individually or in their groups to develop the points
     they want to make during class discussion on the
     following day.
6.   On the following day, post the questions from step 4
     and have students share perspectives.  What values seem
     to conflict with freedom of the press?  (individual's
     right to privacy, trust in government, smooth operation
     of government)
7.   Point out that in this case the press had an influence
     on the story they were covering.  Could such influence
     ever be negative?  (Possibly in cases of terrorism or
     revealing defense secrets) Would possible negative
     effects justify limiting press freedom?
8.   Conclude the lesson by asking students what role they
     want a free press to fill in our society.  What can we
     do to ensure that we continue to enjoy the benefits of
     a free press?  What limits, if any, do they think we as
     a society should place on the press?

1.   Invite one or more journalists to class to discuss
     their views on what limits operate on reporters and
     media.  Discuss their views on prior restraint in
     relationship to those of the class.
2.   Some writers and educators have said that people
     function in seven social roles: self, member of social
     groups, citizen, worker, friend, family member, and
     consumer.  Present these seven roles to students and
     have them brainstorm kinds of information the press
     could provide that would be useful to a person in each
     of those roles.  For example, humorous articles or
     cartoons might be useful to the self in maintaining a
     healthy mental balance.  Information about testing of
     new products might be useful in acting as a consumer.
     Information about political events or new technological
     developments that may affect the environment might be
     useful to the citizen.

     Divide the class into four groups, assigning one to
     newspapers, one to newsmagazines, one to television
     news, and one to radio news.  Each group's task is to
     determine what roles the press is most helpful to
     people n fulfilling.  Groups may want to create a chart
     on which they can keep track of the stories, column
     inches, or minutes of news devoted to each area (note
     that the roles are not mutually exclusive; a story
     could be useful to a person in several roles).  What
     kinds of stories do not seem to fit any role?  Why do
     they continue to be covered?  In what areas does the
     press do an especially good job?


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