Newly unearthed work by the famed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr presages many of today’s debates on media and its role in molding the fate of American democracy.
Stephen Bates is an Associate Professor in the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is the author of “An Aristocracy of Critics: Luce, Hutchins, Niebuhr, and the Committee That Redefined Freedom of the Press” (Yale, Oct. 2020).
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The philosopher’s analysis in the midst of the Red Scare suggests a different way of understanding current debates about the suppression of ideas.
McKeever v. Barr, a ruling issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on April 5, rejects the argument that federal judges can release grand jury evidence whenever they think it’s in the public interest. The holding may be bad news for those in Congress who want to see such evidence from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
At 11:00 a.m. on March 1, 1974, lawyers and reporters gathered in Judge John Sirica’s courtroom in Washington. The Watergate special prosecutor’s office had issued its usual bland announcement: A “proceeding” would take place. In court, Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski said that the grand jury had materials to submit to the judge: an indictment and a sealed report. The grand jury foreman, a Library of Congress trade analyst named Vladimir Pregelj, handed Judge Sirica two sealed envelopes.
President Trump’s attorney general nominee William Barr says he has the “the utmost respect” for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but during his confirmation hearings he would not pledge to release any report produced by Mueller’s office. Some see an inconsistency. They’re wrong.
Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski’s report to the House of Representatives hastened the impeachment of President Nixon in 1974. Now that Jaworski’s “road map” has been made public, after 44 years under judicial seal, Robert Mueller may be able to use it as a template for his own impeachment report—assuming that he’s preparing one.
Once the midterms are past, Americans can resume their reveries about a hypothetical report from the special counsel’s office. There’s no telling how much Robert Mueller knows, but onlookers can speculate about how much the country is likely to find out and how it’s likely to do so. A Mueller Report? A Rosenstein Report? An Impeachment Report? All three?