TITLE: Freedom of the Press AUTHOR: Jim Skvorc, Summit High School, CO GRADE LEVEL/SUBJECT: 10, U.S. History 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. ACTIVITIES AND PROCEDURES: 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 press. 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? ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES: 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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