FAN 57 (First Amendment News) Press Group & Others Await Ruling re Release of 1942 Grand Jury Transcripts in Chicago Tribune Case
PETITION FOR ORDER DIRECTING RELEASE OF TRANSCRIPTS OF CERTAIN TESTIMONY FROM AUGUST 1942 GRAND JURY INVESTIGATION OF THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE
That is the caption in the petition titled In re Petition of Elliot Carlson, et al, which was filed on November 18, 2014 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The judging presiding over the case is Chief Judge Ruben Castillo. In addition to the lead petitioner, the other parties in the case are: the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the American Historical Association, the National Security Archive, the Naval Historical Foundation, the Naval Institute Press, the Organization of American Historians, and the Society for Military History.
The controversy traces back to a June 7, 1942 front-page story the Chicago Tribune ran by its war correspondent Stanley Johnston. The piece was titled “Navy Had Word of Jap Plan to Strike at Sea.” Citing “reliable sources in naval intelligence,” the Johnston story reported that the U.S. Navy had detailed information concerning the Japanese military’s plan to attack U.S. forces at Midway several days in advance of that battle.
The government believed that the story was based on a classified Navy dispatch. More importantly, it believed that the story revealed a closely-held secret, namely, that the Navy had cracked the radio code used by the Japanese navy to encrypt communications. Outraged by the apparent “leak,” officials in the FDR Administration pressed for the prosecution of the reporter and his paper. Or as the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune put it in 2014: “The response was ferocious. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s instinct was to have Marines occupy Tribune Tower. Navy Secretary Frank Knox insisted that U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle prosecute Tribune journalists for hurting national security.”
The Justice Department convened a grand jury in August of 1942 to investigate whether Johnston and his managing editor, J. Loy Maloney, along with the Tribune had violated the Espionage Act of 1917. On August 19, 1942, the grand jury declined to issue any indictments.
It is against that backdrop that Elliot Carlson (a naval historian) and his fellow petitioners requested the release of the transcripts of the testimony of all 13 witnesses who testified before the grand jury in connection with the Tribune investigation. The transcripts are apparently stored at a National Archives repository in College Park, MD (enclosures to Serials 1 through 11 for File Number 146-7-23-25).
In his declaration to the court, Carlson maintained that “[r]eleasing the grand jury testimony will fill in important gaps in the existing historical record and will provide valuable perspective on the relationship between the government and the press during national security crises – a subject that has never been more relevant. Historians and writers still disagree would the details of the Tribune scandal . . . but the grand jury testimony could settle the dispute.”
Government Opposes Release of 1942 Transcripts
On December 24, 2014, the government filed its response in opposition to the release of the grand jury transcripts. Its opposition was based on three basic arguments:
- “No Statute or Rule Provides for Release of Grand Jury Information for Reasons of Historical Interest”
- “Second Circuit Law Recognizing Historical Significance as a Special Circumstance Justifying Disclosure Is Flawed and Contrary to the Weight of Supreme Court Jurisprudence,” and
- “The Supreme Court’s Rulemaking Body Has Rejected an Amendment to Rule 6(e) Based on Historical Interest”
In their reply memorandum, the Petitioners advanced two main arguments:
- “Courts have discretion to order disclosure of historical grand jury material in appropriate circumstances pursuant to their inherent authority,” and
- “The Coalition has demonstrated that disclosure of the testimony from the 1942 Tribune grand jury investigation is a proper exercise of this Court’s discretion.”
→ Lawyer for Petitioners: Brendan J. Healey
→ Lawyer for the Government: Elizabeth J. Shapiro (U.S. Department of Justice)
A ruling is expected sometime within the next two months.
→ See also Editorial, “Breaking the code on a Chicago mystery from WWII,” Chicago Tribune, November 21, 2014
For some historical background, see:
- Lloyd Wendt, Chicago Tribune: The Rise of a Great American Newspaper (1979), pp. 627-636
- Michael S. Sweeney & Patrick S. Washburn, “‘Aint Justice Wonderful’: The Chicago Tribune’s Battle of Midway Story and the Government’s Attempt at an Espionage Act Indictment in 1942,” Journalism & Communication Monographs December 5, 2013 (updated 2014)
- Dina Green, “Communication Intelligence and the Freedom of the Press. The Chicago Tribune’s Battle of Midway Dispatch and the Breaking of the Japanese Naval Code,” Journal of Contemporary History (1981)
ht: Katie Townsend
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Muzzle Awards ‘Honor’ First Amendment Violators
This from a news report in The Daily Progress: “The administration of a major university, the mayor of Peoria, Illinois, and an Alabama circuit judge are among this year’s recipients of the Jefferson Muzzle awards, given to people or institutions accused of stifling freedom of speech in the United States. Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression . . . gives out the awards each year.”
Those receiving the awards were:
- Peoria, Illinois Mayor Jim Ardis
- Bergen Community College (NJ)
- Mora Co., New Mexico Board of Commissioners
- Bedford Co., Pennsylvania District Attorney Bill Higgins
- Alabama Circuit Court Judge Claud D. Neilson
- The Indiana Department of Corrections
- Asnuntuck Community College (CT)
- The University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
NB: Links are to stories re the reasons for bestowing the awards.
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