The FBI’s secret investigation of Ben Bagdikian and the Pentagon Papers

August 29, 2018
Image via Chris Blakely/Flickr.

As the Trump administration pursues an unprecedented number of investigations into government leaks, FBI records reveal that the Nixon administration scrutinized the late journalist and renowned media critic Ben H. Bagdikian for his role in obtaining the Pentagon Papers for The Washington Post.

It has long been known that the FBI aggressively investigated the 1971 leaking of the classified study of the Vietnam War to newspapers, in particular examining the activities of Neil Sheehan, the New York Times reporter who first obtained the Pentagon Papers. But records recently released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the bureau used intrusive techniques to gather information about the actions of Bagdikian, then a top editor at the Post and a contributor to the Columbia Journalism Review.

For instance, FBI agents secretly reviewed Bagdikian’s credit card purchases, as well as phone, airline, and hotel records for information about his travels, communications, and interactions. They obtained employment data, his immigration file, and his fingerprints, the records show. They interviewed associates and acquaintances, including at least one former Post employee, and conducted “pretext interviews,” in which agents use false identities, with a woman at his former home and with his neighbors. And they closely read CJR’s special issue on the Pentagon Papers, titled “The First Amendment on Trial” (September–October 1971), to glean leads for their investigation, and then followed up on them.

ICYMI: Afghanistan journalism continues to suffer after its deadliest attack

The previously undisclosed information adds new details to prior accounts about the Nixon administration’s response to the disclosure of the Pentagon Papers and the FBI’s intensive investigation of journalists’ acquisition of the secret study of the US role in Vietnam. The Bagdikian investigation was a harbinger of the way current leak inquiries have come to encompass a broad range of personal and professional information concerning reporters—and starkly shows that the reach of such probes has been greatly extended through the ubiquity of digital records. 

Bagdikian suspected the FBI might investigate how he got the papers, but he evidently did not know that the bureau actually examined his role. Although he requested ‘all’ his records under FOIA in 1975, the FBI withheld records on the part he played in the Pentagon Papers case, not releasing them until now.

The Washington Post did not respond to CJR’s requests for comment on the FBI documents about Bagdikian and the Pentagon Papers. In an email, however, former Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr., who said he had no knowledge that Bagdikian was being investigated by the FBI, wrote, “What you describe in the FBI documents was an unwarranted government intrusion into Bagdikian’s privacy, even though it [did] not interfere with The Post’s publication of stories about the Pentagon Papers and did not cause any legal jeopardy for Bagdikian.”

Sign up for CJR's daily email

“This shows the length [to] which the government has gone in the past to try to both stifle leaks and in turn stifle legitimate, important journalism,” says Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending public interest journalism. “The fact that this happened over 45 years ago and we’re just finding out about it now makes you wonder how many other times the government went to this length to spy on journalists in secret. Are there other cases like this, where reporters are never alerted they were spied on in this comprehensive manner?”

Timm notes that modern technology automatically creates a digital record of our communications, travel, and other actions—and as a result reporting is “much less anonymous than it was back in Ben Bagdikian’s day.”

Bagdikian suspected the FBI might investigate how he got the papers—it had been reported that a federal grand jury in Boston was investigating possible criminal charges against The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe in connection with the publication of the report—but he evidently did not know that the bureau actually examined his role. He did not mention it in his writings or in the detailed oral history he recorded in 2010 for the UC Berkeley Regional Oral History Office. And although he requested “all” his records under FOIA in 1975, the FBI withheld records on the part he played in the Pentagon Papers case, not releasing them until now.

Betty Medsger, who was a Post reporter and Bagdikian’s fiancée at the time, said in an interview that he never indicated actual knowledge of an investigation of his activities. She recalled, however, seeing a large van parked in front of their Washington, DC, home for hours at a time, which she and Bagdikian assumed to be the FBI. “I don’t know how many nights we noticed it, but we started becoming concerned,” she says. “And finally one of us went out to the van. They wouldn’t talk to us, and they drove away. My memory is that they didn’t come back.” (The van could have been there for him or for her—or for both of them; just a few months before the Pentagon Papers story broke, Medsger had published articles based on stolen FBI documents that described the bureau’s unlawful surveillance and harassment operations. Activists had broken into the FBI’s office in Media, Pennsylvania, and sent copies of the files to journalists, as Medsger described in her 2014 book, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI.)

Bagdikian was an esteemed media critic, a writer for national magazines, and a founding contributor to CJR, who wrote its Letter from Washington column. He authored several books, including 1983’s The Media Monopoly; from 1976 to 1990 he was a professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and he was its dean from 1985 to 1988. He died in 2016, at age 96, in Berkeley, California.

The newly released FBI records do not name Bagdikian as a target for prosecution. They do indicate, however, that the government was investigating him and other journalists as part of its prosecution of Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst at the RAND Corporation who copied the secret study and made it available to the Times, the Post, and other newspapers. At the time, according to published accounts, Bagdikian and other journalists were concerned about the possibility of being prosecuted or subpoenaed to testify in the case against Ellsberg. Had they refused to testify, they could have been cited for contempt and jailed. The newly released records show this may have been more of a possibility than they knew.


ELLSBERG HAD HELPED PREPARE the 47-volume history of the Vietnam War that was commissioned by then–secretary of defense Robert McNamara and became known as the Pentagon Papers. The classified study showed that US officials had systematically misled the public about the war. Ellsberg, a onetime hawk who had become disillusioned with the war, sought unsuccessfully to give the study to several congressmen before he turned to the press.

On June 13, 1971, the Times began publishing stories based on the Defense Department study. Two days later, the Nixon administration, contending that the disclosures would cause “irreparable harm” to national security, obtained a temporary injunction stopping the Times’s publication of them.

The Post joined the fray in a journalistic deed dramatized in the 2017 movie The Post.  Bagdikian, then the assistant managing editor for national news at the Post, had instantly thought the Times’s source might be Ellsberg, whom he knew from RAND, the Santa Monica–based think tank where Ellsberg had been a strategic analyst and where Bagdikian had written a book on the media, The Information Machines. He promptly placed several calls but didn’t reach Ellsberg. Then, the day after the court enjoined the Times, Bagdikian received a cryptic phone message: “Call Mr. Boston from a secure phone.” As he wrote in his memoir, Double Vision: Reflections on My Heritage, Life, and Profession, he immediately suspected the message was about the Pentagon Papers.

Concerned that some of the Post’s phones might be tapped and that there could be an FBI informant on the staff of the newspaper, Bagdikian later recounted, he quickly crossed the street to the Statler Hilton Hotel and its bank of pay phones. He dialed the number given on the note, and a voice said an old friend would call back on another public phone. Soon he was speaking with Ellsberg.

Bagdikian arranged a rendezvous in Boston that night by leaving another coded message: “Mr. Medford from Providence will wait for you at the hotel.” After checking in under that name, he met with Ellsberg, and the next day, June 17, he flew back to Washington on American Airlines Flight 287, also under the name Medford, according to Double Vision. He carried two boxes filled with thousands of pages of the study, fearing, as he recalled in the 2010 oral history, that if they spilled out at the airport, “the FBI would have me in hand immediately.”  

Bagdikian promptly delivered the pages to the home of Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, where a team of reporters rushed to prepare articles in one room, while in the next editors argued with the newspaper’s lawyers, who warned against publishing in light of the injunction against the Times. Bagdikian declared that “the way to assert the right to publish is to publish,” and threatened to quit if they didn’t.

Publisher Katharine Graham gave the green light: the Post ran its first story on June 18 and a second one on June 19, before a federal appeals court temporarily blocked further publication. Meanwhile, several other newspapers around the country obtained parts of the study and ran their own stories. The matter swiftly reached the US Supreme Court, which ruled on June 30, in a 6–3 decision, that the government had failed to prove publication would cause irreparable harm and lifted the temporary restraining orders.   

The next day, Attorney General John N. Mitchell vowed to investigate the leaks and prosecute anyone who had broken the law. Then, as now, the White House was occupied by a president hostile toward journalists. Nixon sought to discredit critical journalists, and Vice President Spiro Agnew derided the press corps as “nattering nabobs of negativism.” Trump, for his part, has often attacked stories critical of his administration as “fake news,” called reporters dishonest, and characterized the media as “the enemy of the people.”

In response to my FOIA appeal, the FBI released 40 documents, 33 of them from the portions of the bureau’s Pentagon Papers leak investigation that concern Bagdikian. All told, in response to the appeal, the FBI processed 170 pages, withholding 35 pages in full and releasing 135 pages with redactions of information the bureau claims is exempt.

The FBI pursued a criminal investigation of the Pentagon Papers leaks, working with federal grand juries in Boston and Los Angeles. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover assigned the case to W. Raymond Wannall, a supervisor at the bureau’s Nationalities Intelligence Section, which handled leak inquiries. “I had to get an extra phone on my desk,” he recalled in a 2006 oral history for the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI. “We were so busy.”

In 1971, the investigation was code-named “MC LEK,” a cryptonym for “McNamara Leak.” That June, the Justice Department obtained an indictment charging Ellsberg with theft and espionage, and that December it obtained a superseding indictment that added a conspiracy charge and named Anthony Russo, a RAND analyst, as a co-conspirator. The investigation also examined Bagdikian’s role in the Post’s acquisition of the papers.

In response to my FOIA appeal, the FBI released 40 documents, 33 of them from the portions of the bureau’s Pentagon Papers leak investigation that concern Bagdikian. (The other seven documents concern Bagdikian’s earlier writings and date back to 1959.) All told, in response to the appeal, the FBI processed 170 pages, withholding 35 pages in full and releasing 135 pages with redactions of information the bureau claims is exempt because it concerns personal privacy, law enforcement, or grand jury proceedings.

The released FBI documents include internal memos, reports to the Justice Department, and urgent, encrypted interoffice communications, called “teletypes,” in which various FBI offices exchanged information and set out “leads” for one another to follow. As is typical of FBI investigative files, the records contain some raw intelligence and unverified statements.

The earliest document is a June 29, 1971, teletype from the FBI’s Los Angeles field office to FBI headquarters. The report notes that a source at RAND, whose name is redacted, told agents that Bagdikian had worked in the social sciences department there from September 5, 1967, to December 31, 1969; held a top-secret security clearance; and knew someone whose name was also redacted, most likely Ellsberg. A second source cited in the report, whose name is also redacted, told the FBI she had been contacted by a female reporter for CBS who mentioned that she’d been trying to reach Bagdikian but did not want to “break his cover.” In a memo the next day, Wannall concluded, “Possibility exists that the ‘Washington Post’ obtained its copy of classified information from [name redacted] through Bagdikian.”

On July 7, the Washington, DC, field office notified FBI headquarters that agents had checked bureau files on Bagdikian and found prior references to him, but none indicated a relationship with a particular person—again probably Ellsberg—whose name was redacted. Two days later, the Los Angeles field office sent FBI headquarters a lengthy report. The table of contents listed sections on the investigation at RAND, on people reportedly present when Ellsberg copied documents in October 1969, and on “bank records,” among other topics.

Although the FBI withheld most of this report, an eight-page section on “Ben Haig Bagdikian” states that agents had obtained his RAND personnel file as well as a federal personnel security questionnaire he completed to receive a security clearance while at RAND. The report notes that he had signed a document declaring that he understood safeguards for handling classified information. It included comments from Bagdikian’s acquaintances at RAND, one of whom described him as “a very responsible person.”


BY THE TIME THE US SUPREME COURT declined to block the Times and the Post from publishing, more than a dozen other newspapers had obtained parts of the classified study and published stories based on them. One document indicates that the FBI was casting a broad net for evidence about these newspapers, as well. On August 4, FBI headquarters sent the field offices a list of newspapers that had published material from the Pentagon Papers and referencing “data” required for leak investigations. Although the released record doesn’t include the actual data, it indicates that it amounted to evidence of a correlation between material from the Pentagon Papers and information published by the newspapers. Bureau agents asked the Department of Defense to provide this data “as soon as possible.”   

The FBI also looked into the purported photocopying of documents that occurred on the premises of the Post itself. On August 5, the Washington, DC, field office asked the Baltimore field office to reinterview a source to “determine the exact identities of the Miami and Boston newspapers reportedly present at the…Washington Post…during the Xeroxing of the documents reported by [redacted].” The released records do not provide further details about the copying, or when it occurred, but suggest that representatives of those newspapers were present at the time. The Washington field office sent Baltimore agents a photograph of Bagdikian, apparently to show to the source who had reported the photocopying.

On August 18, the Boston field office asked FBI headquarters for the names of Washington newspaper correspondents “possibly pertinent to this investigation.” The following day, the Los Angeles field office suggested that the Boston and New York City field offices “be alert for information concerning [the] following additional correspondents when checking airline and hotel records.” Listed were the late Derick Daniels, an editor with Knight Newspapers; the late newspaper columnist Jack Anderson; a journalist with Dispatch News Service whose name is redacted; and Bagdikian.

FBI agents also scoured news accounts, which provided some of their best leads. On October 7, for instance, the New York City field office reported that the Columbia Journalism Review had published a special issue on the Pentagon Papers case for the magazine’s 10th anniversary, and agents were “attempting to secure a copy of this publication for review.” They took particular interest in a story by Bagdikian, headlined “What did we learn?” Copies of the article were soon circulated to other field offices with a cover memo marked “Espionage.” (Although the FBI released a copy of this memo to Bagdikian in response to his FOIA request, the bureau redacted all references to the leak investigation, obscuring its investigation of him. A less redacted copy of the memo was released to Vice News last year, but the FBI withheld all other documents concerning Bagdikian’s part in the Pentagon Papers case, according to the Vice report.)

On October 14, FBI Headquarters sent additional excerpts of the CJR special issue to field offices with directions to “review the material enclosed for leads”—especially an article by Jules Witcover of the Los Angeles Times that described how newspapers had reported on the study and Bagdikian’s arrival in a cab at Bradlee’s Georgetown home with the documents.

Headquarters also noted that the Witcover article reported that just days before the Times had begun to publish the Pentagon Papers, Bagdikian had phoned someone at RAND to ask if the organization had produced a study on the advisability of withdrawal from Vietnam. (The FBI redacted that person’s name—Henry Rowen, RAND’s director—in the released memo, even though it was in Witcover’s article.)

The memo concluded: “In view of the information set out above, Bureau feels that Ben Haig Bagdikian had a significant part in the acquisition of ‘McNamara Study’ by ‘The Washington Post’ and facts suggest the probability he received the study directly from [name redacted] or through [name redacted].”

FBI agents intensified their investigation of Bagdikian’s activities in obtaining the papers for the Post. Following up on the Witcover story, they questioned a man whose name is redacted—the FBI records and historical accounts suggest it was Rowen—about a phone query Bagdikian had made in his search for the papers, but the man said he had told Bagdikian he knew of “no such RAND study.”

Then, on October 26, agents checked “local municipal records” and “established sources” in an apparent effort to gather information concerning Bagdikian, also to no avail. They conducted pretext interviews with an “unidentified female” at Bagdikian’s home and with his “immediate neighbors,” collecting information that “strongly suggests” something that was redacted. (Medsger says neither Bagdikian nor their neighbors ever mentioned such contacts, adding that the document likely referred to Bagdikian’s former wife and house, also located in Washington, DC.)

On November 1, the Washington field office reported that “efforts to develop additional information concerning Ben Bagdikian with particular reference to his relationship with [name redacted] and concerning his activities during June, last, are being expedited.” Or, as another memo the next day put it more precisely, the FBI was homing in on Bagdikian’s “activities and whereabouts” during the five days between the Times’s and the Post’s first publication of the Pentagon Papers in an effort to discover how he procured the study. Agents checked with a credit bureau to identify his charge accounts, then contacted credit card companies around the country to gather “any information available regarding charges made by Bagdikian during the period June thirteen to seventeen, last.”

The Houston field office examined his Texaco charge account and found no purchases during that time (but noted he had a credit balance of $27.65). New York City agents’ initial review of American Express records showed no charges, so they expanded it to cover six months because “Bagdikian’s activities and past relationship with [name redacted] have become of greater investigative interest.” Still, the only charge they discovered was a $15 American Express annual renewal fee.

On November 10, the Washington field office reported that it had examined Bagdikian’s Immigration and Naturalization Service file, remarking that he “derived citizenship by naturalization of his father,” but adding, “nothing pertinent noted.” (Bagdikian was born in Marash, Turkey.) Later that month, agents obtained an “original copy” of Bagdikian’s fingerprints from RAND.

On November 11, the Washington field office requested permission to contact someone who, the redacted document suggests, was a Post reporter, “at someplace away from his work and interview him for any information he may have about Bagdikian’s activities pertinent to this investigation.” The released records don’t say whether permission was granted and provide no indication this person was interviewed. However, agents did interview a woman who had worked at RAND and then briefly in the Post’s personnel department “concerning her knowledge of Bagdikian.” She described their limited contacts and said she assumed Bagdikian had helped her get the job, a report says, but she had no pertinent information.

According to another report, FBI agents questioned a source, who may have been a part-time Post employee, about what he said was the alleged photocopying of the Pentagon Papers that occurred at the Post on June 30, 1971, the day the Supreme Court declined to block publication. The January 27, 1972 report indicates that the man gave the FBI the names of four Post employees who he claimed were present with the columnist Jack Anderson, “who aided in the duplication,” but he said he knew nothing of how Bagdikian had obtained the papers.

The redacted document doesn’t further identify the source, or the Post employees, or provide any explanation about the purpose of the purported photocopying. Nor does the document indicate whether this was the same photocopying incident the FBI had examined earlier. Medsger says she does not recall hearing about the alleged photocopying or about a part-time Post employee who was an FBI source. However, she says a strange encounter she had with a man who worked in the Post mailroom, several months before the Pentagon Papers story broke, led her and Bagdikian to believe he was an FBI informant.

When I asked Downie about Bagdikian and Medsger’s suspicions that the Post’s phones may have been tapped or that there was an informant at the paper, he told me that because he was working on the paper’s city desk at the time and not involved in the Pentagon Papers story, he had no knowledge of these concerns. Nor, he added, did Ben Bradlee ever mention anything about such apprehensions to him.

After Esquire published an article on the Pentagon Papers case by the journalist Sanford J. Ungar in May 1972, a memo says, FBI agents noted that the story reported that Bagdikian had placed calls to Ellsberg and a second person from the phone booths at the Statler Hilton the previous June 16, and had then flown to Boston to get the papers. The FBI subpoenaed phone records listed under two redacted names, the memo says.

FBI agents tried to trace Bagdikian’s steps in Boston. In the most recent document released—a June 5, 1972, report—agents at the field office there said they had reviewed passenger records at Northeast Airlines under his name. They had also canvassed seven motels and hotels in the Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, area, as well as the Hertz and Avis car rental agencies. Their search was fruitless. Bagdikian had flown on American Airlines and used the alias Mr. Medford.

In 1975 Bagdikian filed a FOIA request for “all” FBI records “pertaining to me,” according to a copy of his request. The FBI sent him 93 pages (which were later released to other requesters as well) that mainly concerned articles he had written in the 1950s and 1960s. They included a 1961 story about J. Edgar Hoover reporting that the FBI director had leaked a secret study to serve his own bureaucratic purposes. The story prompted a displeased Hoover to scrawl in the margins of the clipping, “Utter Bunk. H,” and “See that Bagdikian is not on our mailing lists and gets no cooperation. H.” Bagdikian would later recount the episode in his oral history and describe it to me (a former student of his) as an example of Hoover’s vindictiveness in response to critical reporting.

However, the FBI sent Bagdikian only three documents from its Pentagon Papers investigation concerning him—and even then redacted all references to the inquiry. The FBI initially withheld those records from me as well, releasing them and other records on him from that investigation only after I made an administrative appeal to the Justice Department. The records are still obviously incomplete; they don’t mention, for instance, how the Justice Department ultimately resolved its investigations of Bagdikian and other journalists who obtained the Pentagon Papers, a question that has been raised in several accounts of the case.

As Ungar wrote in his 1972 book about the Pentagon Papers, The Papers & The Papers, the Boston grand jury seemed intent on tracing how each newspaper received the Pentagon Papers and indicting all involved. Government agents focused on Times reporter Sheehan and his wife, New Yorker staff writer Susan Sheehan, subpoenaing their bank records and questioning their neighbors, Ungar wrote. The FBI also tracked some of the Sheehans’ movements and phone calls in Cambridge, according to Tom Wells’s biography of Ellsberg, Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg. But the Sheehans were neither subpoenaed nor indicted.

Nor was Bagdikian subpoenaed or questioned by the FBI, says Medsger. (She says that in 1972 two FBI agents came to their home to question her about the FBI documents stolen from the Media, Pennsylvania, FBI office, but she refused to discuss any unpublished information and they shortly left.) Both Bagdikian and Medsger were determined to protect their respective sources, even if it meant going to jail. “Both of us felt that if were subpoenaed before a grand jury, we would refuse to testify,” she says.

James C. Goodale, general counsel for the Times during the Pentagon Papers case, wrote in his 2013 book, Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles, that he had prepared Sheehan and the Times for a possible prosecution. The investigation ended without their indictments, he suggested, because it would have been difficult for the Justice Department to prosecute them in Boston while simultaneously prosecuting Ellsberg in Los Angeles, and because its legal theories against them were weak.

Historian David Rudenstine wrote in his 1996 book on the Pentagon Papers case, The Day the Presses Stopped, that Attorney General Mitchell thought the government had little chance of convicting any journalist since it had already failed, in its effort to enjoin publication, to prove that publication of the papers had irreparably harmed national security. While the high court had left open the possibility that the Times and Post could face criminal prosecution for publishing the papers, he noted, Nixon may have simply wanted to avoid a legal battle with the press during his reelection campaign.

And as Wells wrote, although Nixon believed Sheehan had been part of a conspiracy involving Ellsberg, the president told his aide H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, “You prosecute a newspaperman, you’re in a difficult position.”  

How the Trump administration handles future leak investigations remains to be seen. But while the FBI’s investigation of Bagdikian outlines the likely contours of any subsequent leak investigation, it is already clear that such inquiries will be enhanced by the digital net that now envelops much of human activity.

The Nixon administration was, meanwhile, overtaken by events. In 1971 the White House set up a secret unit—later known as the Plumbers—to investigate Ellsberg, discredit him by leaking derogatory information about him to the press, and thus discourage him and others from leaking more secrets. But in 1972 the Plumbers were caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee office at the Watergate Hotel. That led to the disclosure at the Los Angeles trial of Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, his RAND colleague, that the Plumbers had burgled the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist—which, along with other government misconduct, prompted the judge to dismiss the charges against them.

The snowballing Watergate scandal led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974. The Vietnam War finally ended—after the deaths of some 58,000 Americans and as many as 3 million Vietnamese, mostly civilians—with the fall of Saigon in 1975. These events might also have discouraged press prosecutions.

How the Trump administration handles future leak investigations remains to be seen. But while the FBI’s investigation of Bagdikian outlines the likely contours of any subsequent leak investigation—an examination of individuals who had access to information, of personal and professional communications and associations, of expenses and travel—it is already clear that such inquiries will be enhanced by the digital net that now envelops much of human activity.

The Obama administration pursued nine or 10 leak prosecutions, more than those by all previous presidents combined, according to the Times. Without notice to reporters, government agents seized two months’ worth of phone records on more than 20 telephone lines of the Associated Press; triangulated data taken from the phone, personal email account, and security access badge of Fox News reporter James Rosen to follow his movements and characterize him as a “co-conspirator” for his reporting; and obtained credit card, bank, hotel, and flight records of Times reporter James Risen while they were investigating an alleged source for his book State of War, according to an account Risen wrote for The Intercept.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last year that the Justice Department was investigating about three times the number of leak investigations that were open when Obama left office. So far, three Trump prosecutions have surfaced. In the first two, NSA contract employee Reality Winner and FBI agent Terry Albury pleaded guilty. In the third, a case of alleged leaking by Senate Intelligence Committee aide James A. Wolfe, the FBI secretly obtained more than two years’ worth of email and phone data of reporter Ali Watkins covering the period before she joined the Times in December 2017, when she wrote for BuzzFeed News, HuffPost, and Politico. Wolfe has pleaded not guilty.

Although no reporter has been prosecuted, Trump told then–FBI director James Comey that it might be useful to jail reporters who publish classified information, according to news accounts.  

Timm, of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, says that while technology has made it easier for journalists to gather information, it has also made it easier for the government to investigate their reporting activities. They must take steps to protect themselves and their sources even before they start reporting. “When the government does this type of surveillance directly on reporters, that also puts all of their other sources at risk,” he says, which creates a chilling effect that impedes their ability to provide information to the public, and “ultimately it hurts our democracy.”

In his Columbia Journalism Review article on the lessons learned from the Pentagon Papers case, Bagdikian presciently warned that although the high court had refused to block publication of the papers, the fundamental issues of government deception, official secrecy, and freedom of the press remained unresolved. “The Supreme Court decision probably signalizes not the triumphant end,” he wrote, “but the start of a struggle.”

ICYMI: Former NYT editor warns paper to be careful with Trump coverage

Seth Rosenfeld is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco and the author of Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power.