A London judge has ordered WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to appear before a court in February 2020 to face a full extradition hearing. Prosecutors in the U.S. have indicted Assange on 18 counts, including 17 violations of the Espionage Act. This is the first-ever case of a journalist or publisher being indicted under the World War I-era law. Assange said that his life was “effectively at stake” if the U.K. honors a U.S. request for his extradition. Assange is currently serving a 50-week sentence in London’s Belmarsh Prison for skipping bail in 2012. We speak with James Goodale, former general counsel of The New York Times. In 1971, he urged the paper to publish the Pentagon Papers, which had been leaked by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, a London judge has ordered WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to appear before a court next year to face a full extradition hearing. Prosecutors in the U.S. have indicted Assange on 18 counts, including 17 violations of the Espionage Act, in the first-ever case of a journalist or publisher being indicted under the World War I-era law. Assange said his life was, quote, “effectively at stake” if the U.K. honors a U.S. request for his extradition.
AMY GOODMAN: On Friday, Julian Assange appeared by video link from the high-security Belmarsh Prison, where he’s serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail in 2012 when he took refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. He was granted political asylum. He lived there for almost seven years. The full extradition hearing is expected to last five days and will begin February 25th, 2020.
To talk more about Julian Assange’s case, we’re joined now by James Goodale. He’s the former general counsel of The New York Times. In 1971, he urged the Times to publish the Pentagon Papers, which had been leaked by the whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Jim Goodale is the author of Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
JAMES GOODALE: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us, Jim. Talk about what Julian Assange faces right now. It’s become very clear with the, what, 17 charges of espionage against him and now the court clearing the way for this extradition case next year.
JAMES GOODALE: Well, the first thing that happens, as you said, is there will be a trial as to whether he will be extradited or not. That will be interesting to follow, five days. If he loses, which most people think he will, he then comes back here, and he faces charges under the Espionage Act—espionage, if you can believe it—for publishing and gathering the news. Those charges are absolutely novel in the history of this country.
And if the government succeeds with the trial against Assange, if any, that will mean that it’s criminalized the news gathering process. Fancy way of saying when a reporter, like the two of you, go out and try to get a story from someone who has classified information—by the way, all information is classified in the government—you run the risk of going to jail. So that’s why the Assange case, from a journalist’s point, is very important. And from a publisher’s point, since he also has a website and he publishes, it’s astounding that the government has brought criminal charges against a publisher. Think of The New York Times, for example.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, but in terms of Assange, in particular, he—many in the press have, quote, “soured” on him over the last few years in terms of how they view him. Your assessment of how the press attitude, other journalists’, toward Assange himself and why there’s a danger in some of their thinking?
JAMES GOODALE: Well, the press attitude has been terrible. First, it’s driven by ignorance of what I’ve just said. And I think I’ve got the true view of this. But secondly, I think their view, and perhaps the public’s view, of Assange is that he’s a rapist. He faced rape charges in Sweden. He steals information. He causes leaks to take place.
AMY GOODMAN: Those were charges, by the way, that were never actually brought against him.
JAMES GOODALE: That’s what I was about to say. All of this is totally irrelevant to what we’re talking about today, which, I want to emphasize, deals with publication by The New York Times, by four companion papers, by Julian Assange, 10 years ago. Anything that’s happened since then is not part of the charge. So, therefore, if you hate Julian Assange because he screwed up the election, or if you hate him because he’s been accused of rape, forget it. It’s got nothing to do with that. We’re now talking about something that happened 10 years ago. And it raises huge issues of principle with respect to journalism and the news gathering process.
AMY GOODMAN: You talked about The New York Times. Continue on that line.
JAMES GOODALE: Well, in the Pentagon Papers case, OK, basically you had an issue of what happens pre-publication and when you will be allowed to publish. That’s known as a civil case, OK? After the publication, there can always be, but there never has been, a criminal case. So, therefore, when The New York Times published the Pentagon papers, the case was not over.
The government actually—and people have forgotten this—tried to do to The New York Times and its reporter Neil Sheehan exactly what it’s trying to do to Assange today. The government convened a grand jury in 1971, if anyone can remember that far back, to get Sheehan, try to see if he could connect in The New York Times to Noam Chomsky and others of the antiwar left who were in Boston. The grand jury went on and on and on—I don’t know, year, year and a half—and all of a sudden it dropped. We don’t know why it dropped. But I will tell you, as a matter of slight trivia, Jill Lepore, who is a famous Harvard historian, is trying to open up that case. And that case, when opened up, may be very interesting, because it might bear on what the government is trying to do to Julian Assange, the reporter, and WikiLeaks, the publisher of what he reports.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, of course, the government is not claiming that their case stifles free speech. They’re claiming that Assange facilitated the ability of Chelsea Manning to actually break into government information. Could you address that, as well?
JAMES GOODALE: Well, I think that’s a way of reading it. But I think when you take your lawyer’s eyes and look exactly what they’re saying and actually what happened, he, Assange, did not facilitate Chelsea Manning, who is the source in this case, with respect to Chelsea Manning’s leaks. He, or she—they use both—leaked because she wanted to whistleblow. And Assange didn’t get in there and say, “Hey, start leaking.” Now, once he started leaking, and it leaked to WikiLeaks, which is a website that takes anonymous leaks, he did—he, Assange, had conversations with Manning. But it’s hard to say that Assange is the driving force in all of what took place, because he didn’t blow the whistle. Manning blew the whistle. Sometimes you forget. You think, “Hey, isn’t Assange Ellsberg?” No, Assange is The New York Times.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to—
JAMES GOODALE: Wiki—yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —go to Mike Pompeo—now he’s secretary of state, but when he was director of the Central Intelligence Agency—about Julian Assange in 2017. This was his comment as CIA director.
MIKE POMPEO: Julian Assange and his kind are not the slightest bit interested in improving civil liberties or enhancing personal freedom. They have pretended America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice. They may have believed that, but they’re wrong. Assange is a narcissist who has created nothing of value. He relies on the dirty work of others to make himself famous. He’s a fraud, a coward hiding behind a screen.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Pompeo. Assange later responded to his comments while speaking on the Intercepted podcast.
JULIAN ASSANGE: Pompeo said explicitly that he was going to redefine the legal parameters of the First Amendment to define publishers like WikiLeaks in such a manner that the First Amendment would not apply to them. What the hell is going on? This is the head of the largest intelligence service in the world, the intelligence service of the United States. He doesn’t get to make proclamations on interpretation of the law. That’s a responsibility for the courts, it’s a responsibility for Congress, and perhaps it’s a responsibility for the attorney general. It’s way out of line to usurp the roles of those entities that are formally engaged in defining the interpretations of the First Amendment. For any—frankly, any other group to pronounce themselves, but for the head of the CIA to pronounce what the boundaries are of reporting and not reporting is a very disturbing precedent.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Julian Assange, speaking on Intercepted. Jim Goodale?
JAMES GOODALE: Well, I agree with what Assange said about Pompeo. And I think what Pompeo said about Assange could be applied to Pompeo. But it’s interesting the CIA chief is so interested in this. It’s because the CIA has been trying for half a century to cut back the First Amendment to stop leaks. That’s what this case is all about. First, following the Pentagon Papers, the Justice Department was able to convict sources of leaking to reporters, but they couldn’t get reporters, so they got half of the equation, so to speak. For 50 years, they’ve been trying to get the other half of the equation, to get reporters and put them in jail and limit the First Amendment protection of reporters in that regard. So, I think Assange is right. I also think, tell the truth, Pompeo’s got the right to say it. But you think about what he said. He’s just trying to cut back the First Amendment.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m wondering if you could—
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Go to break first, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And then we’ll come right back. Jim Goodale is an attorney, former general counsel for The New York Times, during the time of the Pentagon Papers encouraged the Times to publish the stash of information that whistleblower Dan Ellsberg had. Jim Goodale is the author of Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Sleep” by Godspeed You Black Emperor. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, as we continue to talk about the possible extradition of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, I’d like to turn to Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who spoke on Democracy Now! last month about the Justice Department’s decision to indict Assange on espionage charges.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: There hasn’t actually been such a significant attack on the freedom of the press, the First Amendment, which is the bedrock of our republic, really, our form of government, since my case in 1971, 48 years ago. But this is—I was indicted as a source. And I warned newsmen then that that would not be the last indictment of a source, if I were convicted. Well, I wasn’t convicted. The charges were dropped on governmental misconduct. And it was another 10 years before anybody else faced that charge under the Espionage Act again, Samuel Loring Morison. And it was not until President Obama that nine cases were brought, as I had been warning for so long.
But my warning really was that it wasn’t going to stop there, that almost inevitably there would be a stronger attack directly on the foundations of journalism, against editors, publishers and journalists themselves. And we’ve now seen that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Daniel Ellsberg, the famous Pentagon Papers whistleblower. I wanted to ask you, James Goodale, first on his comments, also on the fact that Chelsea Manning, the whistleblower in this case, is currently now incarcerated for refusing to testify to a grand jury precisely about what happened here. And I’m wondering if you could talk about that, but also about the climate that we’re in today, that we have a president who, when he was campaigning for president, actually praised WikiLeaks and called on WikiLeaks publicly to try to break into or find Hillary Clinton’s supposed lost emails.
JAMES GOODALE: Well, we’ll talk about the president first, my favorite subject, because it’s under his regime that this case is being brought. Obama had a choice to bring the case or not. Now, the same facts—this is 10 years old, as I said earlier. He decided, because of First Amendment considerations, he would not bring the case. So this case is a reflection of Donald Trump. It would not be brought without Donald Trump.
And he has been enhanced in this ability to do so for exactly the reasons that Daniel Ellsberg says, that after his case, the government—and I’m sorry to say, it was Obama, in large part—decided to bring criminal proceedings against sources. Daniel Ellsberg was the first, as he said, and nothing for 10 years. And then the son of Samuel Eliot Morison, one of the great historians of this country, who was in the CIA, was the first such person to have a case brought against him. And there have been many others. And therefore, once the government has—as I said earlier, sort of has half of the transaction, the intellectual transaction—namely, can convict the source—they’re just tempted. They can’t resist the temptation to go after the reporter and the newspaper. And so, Daniel Ellsberg has been absolutely right to warn about this.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about the extradition relationship between the United States and Britain. Isn’t it true that countries don’t usually extradite people facing prosecution for political offenses? And isn’t that what espionage is?
JAMES GOODALE: I think that I would agree to both the hints of the answers to those questions. In the case of United States, it has a treaty with the U.K., and it says specifically in the treaty you can’t extradite for, quote, “political purposes.” Now, is espionage a political activity, which would exempt Assange? There are a lot of people who think so. And I think, probably, that’s the better argument. But whether in fact Assange will be able to get a fair trial in the U.K., when the British home secretary has already said he wants him indicted, and the prime minister said justice will be done, makes me wonder whether the court will fairly apply that exception. That’s what the argument will be about in the five-day period in which this trial will take place.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And assuming he is extradited to the United States, what is your expectation of what an eventual ruling in the Supreme Court here would be on this case?
JAMES GOODALE: Oh my goodness, in the Supreme Court. I was going to say, well, ask me in the trial court, because I worried about the trial court convicting him, because I think it’s hard for Assange to get a fair trial anywhere. There’s so much publicity about what he’s done. Now, you say, let’s go to the Supreme Court. Well, the Supreme Court is not bad on the First Amendment, you know? It really isn’t. But when it comes to national security cases, we can wonder whether the chief justice will be as good on the First Amendment as applied to national security as he has been—and he has been—with respect to other issues. And his vote is needed. You’ve got to find—you’ve got to find the fifth vote, as we all know, because conservatives sort of control the voting numbers on the court. So we don’t know what he’s going to do, and, therefore, the answer, which was terribly long-winded, excuse me, is that I’m pessimistic.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, we talk about the Pentagon Papers, Dan Ellsberg, the whistleblower in the Pentagon Papers. We talk about you as the person who pushed the Times to publish these papers. But especially young people don’t exactly know what happened. And if you can talk about what happened back in 1971, when Dan Ellsberg approached the Times? What happened inside the paper? You were this young general counsel for The New York Times.
JAMES GOODALE: Yes, I was young then. What happened was that Pentagon Papers, which consisted of the history, 40-plus volumes of United States relationships with Vietnam, was effectively brought in to the main editors of The New York Times and to me. I didn’t have any difficulty whatsoever to think that a history couldn’t be published. And I really didn’t care if there was a classified stamp or not. And if you looked at those sources of the study, New York Times was a source on much of the study. So, what was somebody going to do? Stop the Times from publishing what it already published? I mean, that was basically my argument.
But when this argument and when the desire of the newspeople to publish was brought to those who own the paper, they were not so happy about it. And you can understand why. And they asked the former attorney general of the United States, who served under Eisenhower—his name was Herbert Brownell—what his opinion was. And his opinion was, “I am not even going to read the Pentagon Papers, because they have a classified stamp on it. And you will go to jail if you publish.” Well, Times published anyway. I asked Brownell, the same Brownell, to represent us in court the next day, because the government was trying to stop publication. That’s what the Pentagon Papers case was: a move by the government to stop publication. It had to be defended.
AMY GOODMAN: This was President Nixon at the time.
JAMES GOODALE: Yeah, it was under President Nixon. And I asked Brownell to defend us in court. And six hours or seven hours before we were about to go into court, he said, “I’m not going to do it.” So, you know, I was young and a little excited, but I was able to put together a team, in the next hour and a half, of lawyers. And we went into court with a whole new team, which, I know from subsequent conversations with the government, surprised the living hell out of them. How did I do that? That may have been my better achievement, just putting that team together. And we won.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But in your book, you also talk about the internal battles, before you ended up in court, within the paper itself about what to do and the pressure put by the White House on the owners and the editors of the paper. Could you talk about that, as well?
JAMES GOODALE: Well, let’s take the last question first: What pressure did the White House—because how did they find out about it? Well, they found out about it after it was published. But what the White House did, through its then-Attorney General John Mitchell—we know about him, because he spent part of his life in jail— he called Brownell and said, “Don’t defend the Times.” So that’s the pressure the White House put on The New York Times.
Internally, there was a huge battle between the chief editors and those who represented the publisher, with respect to choice of material that is to be published by the Times, which is the publisher’s role. He was advised by a former foreign editor and so forth and so on. And it got to be so bloody that the editor of The New York Times, whose name was Abe Rosenthal, went home and told his wife that either The New York Times publish the Pentagon Papers or I’m taking off. And I did the same with my wife, too. So, I mean, it was a bloody, screaming situation. And when the government asked us to stop publication—we published, the government asked us to stop—there was another huge fight, between me and those advising the publisher. And the screaming could be heard. There was actual screaming. But, you know, the First Amendment won.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to do Part 2 of this discussion, just to give people a sense of the pressure at that time, as we move into this new case. James Goodale is former vice president and general counsel for The New York Times, author of Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Julian Assange’s case and also the history of the Pentagon Papers, we continue our conversation with James Goodale. He’s the former general counsel of The New York Times. In 1971, he urged the paper to publish the Pentagon Papers, which had been leaked by the whistleblower Dan Ellsberg. Jim Goodale is the author of Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles.
In Part 1 of our discussion, Jim, we talked about Julian Assange and the precedent set by the Pentagon Papers. But especially for young people, I don’t think it’s really clear what the Pentagon Papers case was about and the showdown between The New York Times and President Nixon. Again, this is right before Nixon wins a landslide victory, but he tried to shut down the paper’s possibility of publishing this history of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
JAMES GOODALE: OK. So, The New York Times had this history, which had been prepared by the State Department, by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who was a very intelligent man, that he wanted the study to be there as a lesson from history: “Don’t do Vietnam again,” basically, is what he said. It was prepared by a group of Ph.D. historians. And it came into The New York Times’ hands.
And what the Pentagon Papers case was about was the effort by the United States government to stop the publication of a summary of that history. Plain, old censorship. Government wanted to stop the publication, censor The New York Times. And the government succeeded in doing that for several days. And what the case was about was the Times making an argument before the Supreme Court saying what the government had done, censoring the press, violated the First Amendment. It was an absolutely fundamental tenet, it was argued, that the First Amendment protects against this type of censorship. And so that’s what the case was about.
And the Times won it with a 6-to-3 vote. And since you referred to my book, I say in the book that this is a case for the ages. It will never be overruled, because it’s a fundamental part of the First Amendment. You can’t be stopped from publication. In Julian Assange’s case, he didn’t get stopped, either. And we’re talking about what happens after you publish. But Pentagon Papers is before you publish.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, you mentioned in our first segment that you had already been engaged in battles with the Nixon administration before the Pentagon Papers case broke. I’m wondering if you could talk about some of that earlier history—
JAMES GOODALE: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —especially the Earl Caldwell case, which you were involved in, as well, but others that come to mind.
JAMES GOODALE: Well, what happened in 1968—it was a long time ago, wasn’t it?—when Nixon was elected, is he began a war against the press, that was much greater, in my view, than the war today that Trump is waging against the press. He, Nixon, had a vice president whose name was Agnew. And Agnew was the attack dog. He spent all his time of the first two or three years of Nixon’s presidency, before he was forced to resign, by the way, attacking the press. OK? So that was the atmosphere.
During that period of time, a couple years after he, Nixon, was elected, his Justice Department asked a New York Times reporter, who happened to be black, to give up his sources, give up his information, with respect to reporting that he—his name was Earl Caldwell—had done on the Black Panthers. And he, Caldwell, did not want to do it. He claimed the First Amendment protected his right not to disclose that information. His situation drew imitators. And there were two other people who were in the same situation. All three went to the Supreme Court. And, broadly speaking, all three lost.
I figured a way around it, and we still have a privilege for reporters, not the way it was before Nixon was in place. So, all of this is part of the struggle of the press against Nixon. And that culminates at the end, more or less, of Nixon’s first term in 1971. So, the way to think of the Pentagon Papers is it’s part of a history of resistance to Nixon.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you talked about the outside counsel for The New York Times—you were its general counsel—was the former attorney general of the United States under Eisenhower, Brownell, and he refused to take this court to defend the Times and moving forward with the publication of the Pentagon Papers. So, you, within an hour and half—you had your court date that day, just later in the day—put together a team that had—you had come to work with around these earlier cases, and went into court and actually won. And The New York Times would go down in history publishing the Pentagon Papers. We interviewed Dan Ellsberg, and he talked about, even to this day, The New York Times doesn’t actually directly say he was the whistleblower in this case, even though he personally has continually said it.
JAMES GOODALE: Well, I mean, I’m laughing because one thing you’re never told by newspeople when they have a source, who is an undisclosed, important source, who that source is. So, I will tell you, sitting here today, no one has ever told me that Daniel Ellsberg is the source. And so—
AMY GOODMAN: What about Ellsberg himself?
JAMES GOODALE: Ellsberg himself says he’s the source. I mean, so, there’s no—
AMY GOODMAN: Have you ever asked him?
JAMES GOODALE: No. It’s sort of funny. I’ve had him on the phone many times, assuming he was, but I never asked him in so many words. So, Dan feels, you know, sort of left out, because he—
AMY GOODMAN: Slighted by the Times.
JAMES GOODALE: Slighted, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: They get the credit, and they won’t say he’s actually the source.
JAMES GOODALE: Yeah. He had done all—he took all this risk, and the Times won’t even acknowledge it. But it isn’t meant to be rude. It’s just part of the tradition.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what about the parallels? I mean, Nixon, as you said, very seriously at that time was going after the press. When it comes to Donald Trump, I mean, almost immediately he is going after all of the press, talking about it as the “enemy of the people.” President Trump lashed out at the Times most recently—probably did it since then, but on Saturday, when they published their piece saying the U.S. is ramping up cyber intrusions into Russia’s electric power grid. Trump tweeted The New York Times report is a “virtual act of treason.” So, where might that go?
JAMES GOODALE: Well, we’ve got a couple things here with Donald Trump. One is what he tweets, and what—secondly, what does he do? Up to this moment, that is to say, before the indictment of Julian Assange, he really has been a lot of talk and no action. And I’m not sure how many people actually pay that much attention—well, some do, 42% do—to Donald Trump. But he’s over there talking. Fine. And so far, at least up to Assange, it hasn’t been too bad in the courts. And I would say it was worse under Nixon.
But now that he’s brought this case, effectively, because it’s his attorney general, he’s creeping right up there and maybe tied with Nixon. If he wins the case, he’ll go ahead. But I think it’s fair to say we haven’t had a lot of reporters in jail. No, we haven’t had that many cases of sources going to jail. We had some. So, it’s a lot—
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, interestingly, you have Jim Risen—
JAMES GOODALE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —who left The New York Times, who wasn’t being persecuted by the Trump administration as much as by the Obama administration. He thought the Obama administration would drop this case against him, but in fact it didn’t, which started under President Bush.
JAMES GOODALE: Well, Obama is not so great in all of this, I’m sorry to tell you. He, his Justice Department, tried to get James Risen to give up a source. And Risen said he wasn’t going to do it. And so, the government said—Obama’s—”You’re going to jail.” He said, “Go ahead. Put me in jail.” And he faked them out; they never put him in jail. But the point is that Obama was putting a lot of pressure, effectively, on people like Risen and others. They put a lot of people in jail, a lot of sources.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the importance of press solidarity, because, clearly, in the Pentagon case, in the Pentagon Papers case, after The New York Times published, so did several other major newspapers across the country. And so then it became a case, not just was the government going to go after the Times, was it going to go after the press in general. And—
AMY GOODMAN: The Washington Post and others, right?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Washington Post and others. But what about today, in terms of the importance of press solidarity around the case of Julian Assange?
JAMES GOODALE: It’s very important to have press solidarity. We do not have press solidarity. When I wrote that book, the book was a warning this case—I predicted this very case was going to happen in the book. And when I tried to explain it to journalists, they got so angry at me that they would have to waste their time to support Julian Assange, that it really sort of made me as angry as my book made them. It’s important to have solidarity, because you want to have public opinion totally behind Assange when he goes to trial. That should not be relevant to what happens in the courtroom, but, between you and me, it is.
AMY GOODMAN: Does The New York Times—do you feel it has come out in—
JAMES GOODALE: New York Times has been very slow to come out to support Assange, as indeed many other papers have been slow to support. It did write a pretty good editorial at the time of his indictment. I think the press is beginning to see that we’re not just talking about somebody who fakes people out saying he’s a journalist, says he’s a rapist, but actually is raising important First Amendment questions that apply to journalists. I think that’s beginning to happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you go back even further than Nixon to talk about another big case you were involved with, The New York Times v. Sullivan, ’64?
JAMES GOODALE: New York Times v. Sullivan is a famous case because it changed the law of libel and made the libel law much more difficult to apply to public figures and public officials, who say all sorts of crazy things, like Trump does, by the way, about their opponents or about this and about that. Before the Sullivan case, the law favored people who wanted to sue those who were making such statements. And this was happening in the South. This is at the time of the civil rights movement, where The New York Times, Northern papers were covering what was going on in the South. And the South, if I can call it that, came up with a solution to deal with the bad stories: They would sue. So, there were all sorts of politicians in the South who sued media companies. Sullivan sued The New York Times. That case went to the Supreme Court.
AMY GOODMAN: And Sullivan was?
JAMES GOODALE: Well, it’s hard to remember. L.B. Sullivan was the county commissioner of—I don’t know, whatever county it was, in Alabama. I mean, no one ever heard of him. Well, they’ve heard of him now. And so, what the Supreme Court did, it says, “You can’t have that kind of suits.” And it was a nine-nothing decision. So, change the law. You’re not going to try to win the civil rights movement in the courts. That’s what it really was about.
AMY GOODMAN: And it looks like Trump is trying—would like to see the libel laws changed. He tweeted last year, “Isn’t it a shame that someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact, and get away with it without retribution or cost. Don’t know why Washington politicians don’t change libel laws?”
JAMES GOODALE: Well, it’s sort of a typical Trump statement. It always has a slight element of truth in it. But then you examine it, and you see it’s a lot of baloney, because he can’t change the libel laws. The Legislature can’t change the libel laws. The libel laws were made, effectively, in the Sullivan case by the Supreme Court. So only the Supreme Court can change the laws. And it doesn’t look like they will.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Jim Goodale, for years you were the head of the—chair of the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists, which deals with journalists around the world. You have a series of deaths, murders of journalists in Mexico right now. Journalists are being imprisoned in Turkey at record numbers. In the Philippines, journalists are under threat by the authoritarian President Duterte. Maria Ressa of the Philippines said to us recently that, you know, she has seen whiffs of this here in the United States, and that when President Trump says the press is the enemy of the people, that reverberates throughout the world, has an enormous chilling effect. Can you talk about the global picture for journalists today?
JAMES GOODALE: Well, I think the global picture is as bad as I’ve ever seen it. I was chairman of the Committee to Protect Journalists for five years. And we had a terrible time interesting the U.S. press in what was going on, because not that much was going on. It’s become much worse, and it requires much more protection from the press in this country and the press elsewhere. I’m not sure what the cause is. If I were to guess, I would think we’re in the middle of a huge revolution in which the press and communication plays a part, and so that brings all speech up to a point where it can be subject to being penalized. And I’m not optimistic in the short term this is going to get any better.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you so much for being with us, James Goodale, former vice president and general counsel for The New York Times, author of Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles.