Vol V, No.1 │ Spring Semester 2018
Fortieth Anniversary of the Panama Canal Treaties
The Byrd Call │ Spring Semester 2018
Table of Contents
Truth, Lasting Values, and the Power in All of Us
Feature: Senator Byrd's Vital Role in Ratifying the Panama Canal Treaties
The Byrd Traveling Exhibit Tour Completes its Successful Tour in Charleston, WV
News from the Friends of the Byrd Center
Spring 2018 Film Series
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Truth, Lasting Values, and the Power in All of Us
On New Year’s Eve 2017, former FBI Director James Comey, tweeted to the country “Here’s hoping 2018 brings more ethical leadership, focused on the truth and lasting values….” This message gets at the heart of what good government should be about. Without an ethical foundation, without access to information and truth, without adherence to the enduring values of the U.S. Constitution and our laws, our whole enterprise, the Great American Experiment in Self-Government could collapse.
Here at the Byrd Center we approach our study of Congress, as well as the Executive and Judicial branches in the context of history and the Constitutional powers of each branch. Our mission is to take what we learn and what we have in our archival collections and make them available for educational purposes. We bring to the campus of Shepherd University a variety of top experts for book talks and lectures that help enlighten us. Scholars come to use Senator Byrd’s papers and our other collections. We conduct public programs and partner with local civic
organizations. We do teacher training on the Constitution.
Today, more than ever, people all across the nation need a broad context to understand the unusual and dangerous political currents that are evident today. Our political crisis is not something that emerged with the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. Our national political system has suffered from a long series of events that have increased political polarization to the point where Republicans and Democrats are no longer just political adversaries, but mortal enemies. When our politics becomes so overheated with hyper-partisanship, the first casualties are the truth and the lasting values that the Founders of this nation gave us.
We seem to have lost a common vision of what it means to be an American and what role our government should play in conducting its mission. Just what is government for? Read the 52-words of the Preamble to the Constitution and ponder
By Ray Smock
the important word. He did not serve UNDER any president, of either party. Congress is a co-equal branch of government. No president is above Congress, the people’s branch of government. And no president, no member of Congress, no cabinet official, no judge, no government worker, and no citizen is above the law. Senator Byrd learned that knowledge was power. And his leadership of the U.S. Senate rested on the fact that he worked hard to be as well informed on the issues as anyone in the Senate or anyone in the White House.
Today’s political crisis stems from multiple causes that are confusing even to experts who follow government regularly. Everyone I talk
their meaning. Can we say that we are doing a good job of providing for all the people of the nation?
We seem to be adrift from the best of our political traditions. I am often asked what Senator Byrd would say, and how he would react, to our current political challenges. Alas, he is no longer with us to provide guidance. But he did leave behind a long history of his personal quest to learn about governance and the enduring values of the Founders. We know the causes he championed. We can still listen to his stirring speeches.
Senator Byrd was proud of the fact that he served with eleven U.S. presidents and he always reminded you that the word WITH, was
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All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and
House of Representatives.
Article 1: Section 1
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The executive Power shall be vested in a
President of the United States of America.
Article 2: Section 1
how our tax dollars are spent for the benefit of the country.
We have not had regular order on an appropriations bill in seven years. Budgets get passed piecemeal, by short term Continuing Resolutions. We recently experienced two back-to-back government shutdowns. The United States government should never shut down. This terrible dysfunction hurts the whole country and sends a message to the world that the United States is unstable.
We are watching several investigations centered on the influence of Russia on the 2016 elections. There are at least four congressional investigations, from the House and Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees, and there is one investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The public has been ill-served by the manner in which these investigations have been conducted and reported. The public gets snippets and pieces of what is going on from leaks and tweets that originate from the committees themselves or from the White House.
Congressional investigations have often
to, from both parties, is frustrated and deeply troubled by how far we seem to be from normal behavior from our government in Washington.
In the executive branch we have the unprecedented case of a new president who had no prior experience in government when he was elected. Many of the president’s top cabinet appointments, likewise, have no prior experience in elective office at any level.
In Congress, there has been no “regular order” in how it conducts its business. You will hear experienced legislators from both parties call for “regular order.” This means that Congress is supposed to legislate through a committee system and that bills that come out of committee reach the floor of the House and Senate, where they are openly debated and voted up or down.
This process is especially important in the creation and passage of an annual budget, which sets the national priorities of how we allocate money to pay for everything from national defense, social security, law enforcement, immigration policy, and all the many things large and small that determine
better information and with knowledge of what government is and should be.
We cannot have amateurs running government and we cannot have amateur citizens either. We yell at Congress and the White House: DO YOUR JOB. Maybe we should look in the mirror and say the same thing. The ultimate power to make government better resides in each of our votes. We should cast our votes with good, solid information and we should be informed on the issues and the candidates. We should understand that social media needs great scrutiny. It is the home of propaganda and even Russian spies, as well as good information. Any definition of good citizenship should include the ability to cut through the fog of propaganda we experience every day. It is a big challenge. Are we up to it?
been politicized in the past and used for purposes of political gain rather than for the purpose of truth and for the purpose of learning about problems that need to be fixed by legislation. There is much that needs to be fixed to insure that U. S. elections are not tampered with by foreign powers. This should not be a partisan issue; it is a matter of highest importance to our national defense and the sanctity of our electoral process.
While it is very easy to find things to criticize in government, perhaps there is an important part of our critique that should focus on We the People. Americans who vote have the power to decide what kind of government we want. Do we want a truthful, ethical government, or do we like it the way it is? The public needs to arm itself with
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The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.
Article 3: Section 1
On September 7, 1977 U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian leader General Omar Torrijos met in the stately Hall of the Americas at the Organization of American States in Washington, DC to sign the Panama Canal Treaties. After more than a decade of off-again on-again negotiations spanning four presidential administrations in the U.S. and a coup d'etat in Panama, the treaties established the path by which control of the Panama Canal would transfer to Panama in the year 2000.
Senator Robert C. Byrd played the pivotal role in securing ratification of these treaties after they were signed. It was one of his finest efforts as a leader of the Senate and it demonstrated his diplomatic skill and his understanding of the politics of the Senate and the nation during a very controversial process. Byrd had to balance the desires of the White House, the Republican members of the Senate, led by Minority Leader Howard Baker (R-TN), and address the broad public sentiment that questioned the wisdom of these treaties.
Remembering Senator Byrd's Role in the
Ratification of the Panama Canal Treaties
By James Wyatt
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Byrd had been an early opponent of the treaties, during the long process leading to ratification. In 1974 he wrote in his weekly newspaper column Byrd’s-Eye View, “There is too much doubt about Panama’s ability to operate the canal or provide for its security. The Isthmus of Panama is of considerable strategic importance; and we should not forget the Soviet Union did try an adventure in Cuba. Panama, with 59 presidents or governments in 71 years has no great record of stability.”
Senator Byrd’s eventual shift to support of the treaties and lead the effort to ratify them faced stiff opposition from his constituents in West Virginia, where he was accused of betraying his home state and undermining American democracy. Angry West Virginians saw the treaties as as a give-away of American property to a foreign power. Throughout the United States there was considerable opposition to the treaties and their subsequent ratification.
The transfer of control of the Panama Canal was indeed a major turning point in the foreign policy of the United States. The treaties, explained President Carter during his prepared remarks, “mark the commitment of the United States to the belief that fairness, not force, should lie at the heart of our dealings with the world.”
The fanfare and formality of the signing ceremony at the Hall of the Americas on that late summer afternoon in 1977 distracted from the reality that the treaties remained a long way from ratification. The U.S. Senate, with its constitutional responsibility to provide advice and consent to the ratification of all U.S. treaties, had yet to formally take up the issue.
While Democrats in the Senate had a rare 61-39 filibuster-proof majority, it did not provide all of the votes needed to secure the consent to ratify. Success in the Senate required a two-thirds majority vote, which meant sixty-seven senators had to agree, a heavy lift under any circumstances, especially with so much controversy swirling around the issue.
Ronald Reagan had fanned popular outrage against the treaties a year earlier in 1976, while attempting to unseat President Ford as the Republican nominee for president. Reagan famously quipped, “We built it, we paid for it, it’s ours, and we’re going to keep it.”
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Conservative political action organizations like the American Conservative Union also fueled public opposition to the treaty negotiations through extended and successful lobbying and direct mail campaigns during the mid-1970s. Disgruntled Americans flooded senatorial offices with letters opposing the treaties and left little doubt that any support for ratification would carry a high cost at the ballot box. By the time the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began its hearings on the treaties in late September 1977, almost two-thirds of the Senate remained undecided or strongly opposed to ratification.
If there were two people that hopes for ratification hung, however, it was the new majority and minority leaders Byrd and Baker. Byrd had been elected majority leader by his Democratic colleagues in no small part because of his skills as a legislative tactician and defender of the Senate’s institutional prerogatives. Fiercely independent, he believed deeply in Congress’ status as a co-equal branch of government and was often quick to point out that senators “worked with” and not under any president. Baker, who would later serve as chief of staff for President Reagan, was a well-respected moderate Republican known for his ability to craft political comprises. It was this particular skill that had earned him the moniker, “the Great Conciliator.”
As majority leader, Byrd sought to re-establish the Senate as a willing and independent participant in American foreign policy making, and he recognized the fight over the Panama Canal treaties as a high-profile opportunity to do just that.“ You’re not going to get a treaty without me, and you’re not going to get a treaty without Senator Baker,” Byrd told Carter’s aides in no uncertain terms, “If you have both of us, you might get a treaty.”
Byrd understood that, regardless of whether the treaties passed or failed, the public nature of the issue had raised the stakes and that it was imperative the Senate debate the treaties
Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (right) and Minority Leader Howard Baker (left) during a conversation in the Capitol in late-1977.
to travel to Panama to meet with the nation’s leaders and get a first-hand look at the canal. By the time the Senate reconvened in January 1978 following the holiday recess, more than seventy senators had utilized Byrd’s makeshift classroom, and more than forty had traveled to Panama on delegation trips relating to the treaties.
Senator Byrd led his own congressional delegation trip to Panama in November 1977. The delegation, which included six Democratic Senators, Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio; Paul Sarbanes of Maryland; Water Huddleston of Kentucky: Donald Riegle of Michigan; Spark Matsunaga of Hawaii; and Jim Sasser, of Tennessee, three members of Byrd’s staff and two of Howard Baker’s senior advisors, drew national and international media attention.
Byrd, who had long been one of the Senate’s staunchest anti-communist voices, sought to address questions relating to Panama’s diplomatic relationships with Cuba and the Soviet Union, whether the U.S. would retain the right to defend the canal against any sort of communist attack, and reports that freedom of speech and assembly in Panama had been suppressed under General Torrijos.
thoroughly. Personally, he remained noncommittal on the treaties through 1977, but working alongside Baker, Senator Byrd fostered an open environment conducive to “letting the Senate work its will.” In the days following the signing ceremony, he announced the Senate would not formally open debate on the treaties until the new year, raising eyebrows in Panama, but also providing senators and staff with the “insulation” needed to better educate themselves on the nuances of the treaties.
Leading by example, Byrd immersed himself in the history of the canal and America’s relationship with Panama. He approached the matter from all angles, conducting meetings with American diplomatic and military officials to gain a better understanding of the contemporary economic and national security stakes. Byrd transformed his leadership office in the Capitol into a one-stop shop for information on the canal treaties. He made resources and documents available and hosted informational seminars lead by prominent diplomats and scholars.
Byrd also supported senators who wanted
Senator Byrd (center) and General Torrijos (left of Senator Byrd in dark clothing and hat) disembark for the diplomatic tour in Panama.
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In addition to his meetings with General Torrijos, Senator Byrd spoke with Panamanian citizens to gain a better understanding of their stance on U.S. control of the canal.
Panama's indigenous Kuna [Guna] people express their views through a banner addressed to the visiting senators.
canal, and met with American military officials. Many American citizens living in the Canal Zone expressed fears about how the new treaties would impact their lives and urged against ratification. Byrd, on several occasions explained to Panamanian diplomats and members of the press how the out-sized popular disapproval of the new treaties in the U.S. rendered the ratification vote a high-risk and low-reward issue for many senators, and he reiterated that the Senate’s consent to ratification was anything but assured.
Byrd’s detailed explanations of American constitutionalism likely failed to appease Panamanians looking for assurance that only minor procedural hurdles stood in the way of ratification, but they did not prevent him from
Senator Byrd prepared for the trip by discussing these issues over lunch with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, two days prior to departing. Brzezinski advised Byrd to focus his inquiries on four broad subjects: whether the U.S. possessed the military capacity to keep the Canal open until 2000; how vulnerable the Canal was to sabotage; and how ratifying or not ratifying the treaties would impact Panama’s short and long-term political and economic stability. Byrd, in turn, had his staff draw up a list of twelve questions that he could put to Torrijos and other Panamanian officials during the trip.
Over four days, Byrd’s delegation met and dined with Panamanian leaders, toured the
General Torrijos and Senator Byrd.
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developing a cordial diplomatic relationship with General Torrijos, who many Americans accused of being a third-rate dictator in the mold of Fidel Castro.
Torrijos recognized that gaining Byrd’s personal trust and approval was central to getting the treaties ratified. He willingly addressed Byrd’s questions and concerns in person, and in the weeks following, the Torrijos-led government rescinded several decrees limiting freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and restricting the right to a fair trial that had been enacted in the aftermath of the 1968 military coup.
Byrd commended these changes as “evidence of your good faith” in a personal
Senator Byrd tours a section of the canal.
letter to Torrijos in December, but he continued to publicly hold his cards close.It was not until the Senate reconvened in January 1978 that Byrd finally announced his support for the treaties.“ These treaties” Byrd explained “are the best means of assuring continued access to and use of the Canal.”
With the nation listening in live for the first time in its history, the Senate began debate on the Panama Canal Treaties on February 8, 1978. Senator Byrd helped open the deliberations with a fiery, and lengthy, floor speech that presented the ratification of the treaties as wholly in the “long-term best interests of the United States.” Byrd debunked arguments that the treaties were a give-away to Panama and cited the support for ratification from the U.S. Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, U.S. Military officials in the Canal Zone, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who emphasized that American strategic and commercial interests lay “in use, not ownership or administration of the Canal.”
The debates that followed Byrd’s speech carried on for two months, longer than any treaty deliberations since the Senate’s consideration of the Treaty of Versailles in the aftermath of the World War I. While the
A cartoon from The Charleston Gazette portraying Senator Byrd as the last remaining obstacle for the Panama Canal Treaties to be ratified.
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agreement securing the Canal’s neutrality was reached relatively quickly, Byrd and Baker faced stiff opposition in their efforts to cobble together support for the primary treaty, which established the terms of the transition and future operation of the Canal.
At issue for most of the remaining undecided senators was how the U.S. military could step in to keep the Canal operational in the event of political upheaval or attack. An amendment offered by freshman Arizona Senator Dennis DeConcini provided the U.S. with this authority and was approved in the Senate. Panamanian officials, however, viewed the change as a not-so-subtle effort on the on the part of the U.S. to maintain control of the Canal and quickly rejected it.
With the treaty agreements in jeopardy, Senator Byrd stepped in personally and drafted a compromise solution that proved acceptable to the Panamanian government and the White House and which gained approval in the Senate. Finally, on April 18, 1978, 16 Republicans joined 52 Democrats in voting in support of the primary Panama Canal Treaty. With 68 affirmative votes, Byrd and Baker had crossed the finish line with one vote to spare.
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President Carter's letter to Senator Byrd.
Congratulatory letters circulated around Washington in the days following the vote “If, as I firmly believe, history records approval of the Panama Canal treaties as the right decision, it will be because of men like you.” Byrd wrote in thanks to his Senate colleagues. “You recognized that America, as the world’s most powerful nation, grows only stronger by remaining faithful to the principles of fairness and justice that made us a great nation.”
President Carter echoed these sentiments in his handwritten letter to Senator Byrd, “Rarely is a national leader called upon to act on such an important issue fraught with so much potential political sacrifice. ... On behalf of the people of the United States, I thank you for your personal demonstration of statesmanship and political courage." Signing off, Carter included one last brief message that simply stated “Bob, You were great!” Forty years after their signing, the Panama Canal Treaties remain a remarkable diplomatic achievement.
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The Robert C. Byrd Traveling Exhibit Completes its Successful Tour at the State Capitol in Charleston
By Ray Smock
In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Senator Byrd, the Byrd Center staff created a traveling exhibit of his life and career called “Robert C. Byrd: Senator, Statesmen, West Virginian.” With funding from a major grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council, we were able to keep the exhibit on the road for 22 months, with the exhibit displayed in 17 West Virginia counties, and 26 different venues. The exhibit made two stops at the U.S. Capitol, which included a reception in the historic Kennedy Caucus Room and the display of the exhibit in the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building.
Above: (Left to Right) Board Member Anne Barth, Director Ray Smock, Board Vice Chairman Erik Fatemi, Director of Programs and Research Jay Wyatt, and Secretary of Education and the Arts Gayle Manchin at the Charleston Exhibit Reception.
We made lasting friendships along the way and we are grateful to the many good people who helped us everywhere we went by hosting receptions and for opening their doors to house the exhibit. We had some wonderful sponsors too, including First Energy Foundation, Piper Jaffray, Comcast
for their superb work on this major project.
While the exhibit is officially retired, we will retain it and carefully store it so that if a special occasion arises where the exhibit can be displayed, we will be happy to accommodate future requests. In the meantime, we are exploring ways to
We saw a lot of West Virginia on this tour, crisscrossing the state from the Eastern Panhandle, down to Williamson in Mingo County along the West Virginia/Kentucky boarder, to Huntington and Marshall University, up to the Northern Panhandle, to Morgantown, where the exhibit was on display at West Virginia University, to Parkersburg, and to many other venues. We traveled more than 10,000 miles and wherever we took the exhibit we heard heartfelt stories from West Virginians who remembered Senator Byrd and his impact on West Virginia and on national affairs.
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Over the 22 months of the exhibit tour, we traveled over 10,000 miles, visiting 26 venues in 17 counties across the state:
2016: Greenbrier, Jefferson, Mercer, Monongalia, Raleigh, and Wood Counties
2017: Berkeley, Cabell, Hardy, Harrison, Kanawha, Jackson, Marion, Mingo, Ohio, Randolph, and Tucker Counties.
NBC Universal, and numerous regional/ local supporters.
I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the two staff members were key to the planning and creation of the tour. While this was truly a team effort, Dr. Jay Wyatt and Mr. Jody Brumage were the two members of our staff who made this tour such a success. They were the ones who traveled the most miles and did the lion’s share of the work at all stages of development and execution. I am fortunate to have such fine colleagues and I want to publicly acknowledge them
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convert the content of the exhibit into an illustrated book format.
While Senator Byrd’s Centennial Celebration is behind us, we know that his story is for the ages, and it will always remain an important part of West Virginia history and the history of this nation. In so many ways, his story is just beginning to unfold from the rich archives he left behind. The Byrd Center at Shepherd University is honored to be the curators of his Senate papers, and our mission is to make this rich collection available to scholars and the public, now and for many years to come.
A New Year for the
Friends of the Byrd Center
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Friends gathered for a reception at Popodicon, the President's Official Residence at Shepherd University, in October 2017 where remarks were given by Director Ray Smock, Vice Chairman of the Board Erik Fatemi (pictured above) and President Mary J.C. Hendrix.
The Friends of the Byrd Center capped off its inaugural year with A Night at the Archives in December 2017. Members toured the Byrd Center’s reading room and enjoyed a “behind-the-scenes” look at the archives with an opportunity to view original documents and photographs from the collections. In the coming year, the Friends are planning more gatherings and fundraisers, including An Evening with the Congressional Historians, which will take place on Monday, July 23, 2018.
Through the support of our Friends, the Byrd Center is continuing to expand its programs. For the past two years, the Byrd Center has provided a summer institute for teachers to explore innovative teaching modules that can be applied in the classroom on subjects including the separation of powers, the United States Constitution, and historical events such as the Panama Canal Treaties and the West Virginia Floods of 1985. With the support of the Friends and a grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council, we are expanding the institute this summer to travel to three venues in West Virginia so that teachers who may not have the resources or time to travel to the Eastern Panhandle can take advantage of our institute. Contributions from the Friends also support our ongoing public programs (lectures, films, panels) and our student intern program.
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Historian of the U.S. Senate
Historian of the U.S. House of Representatives
The Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education, the Friends of the Byrd Center, and Shepherd University’s Lifelong Learning Program, invite you to attend an evening of lively discussion about American History and the United States Congress with the first three individuals to hold official positions as congressional historians.The discussion will be followed by a reception and dinner with the historians.
Tickets are $100 per person. All proceeds benefit the student internship program at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education, which gives Shepherd students valuable hands on experience and training by working in a professional archive of political papers. The student interns are paid an hourly wage for their work.
Historian of the U.S. Senate
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An Evening with
Save the Date:
Monday, July 23, 2018
213 North King Street
Shepherdstown, WV 25443
Spring 2018 Film Series focuses on popular dissent, freedom of the press, and water rights!
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Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
A 2017 Sundance Film Festival winner, Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower focuses on Joshua Wong, an unassuming teenager turned activist. When the Chinese Communist Party backtracks on its promise of autonomy to Hong Kong, Wong attempts to save his city by rallying thousands of kids to skip school and occupy the streets. In the process, he emerges as the unlikely leader of a grassroots political movement in Hong Kong and one of China's most notorious dissidents.
Join us this Spring for three more fantastic film screenings sponsored by the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education and Shepherd University’s Lifelong Learning Program. Admission is free for everyone! All you need to do is reserve a seat in advance.
This semester’s film screenings include:
Water & Power: A California Heist
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Water & Power investigates California's convoluted water system, where water barons found ways to structure a state-engineered system to their advantage. The 2017 documentary film places California's recent water crisis in historical context and shows how small farmers and everyday citizens are facing the drought and a new, debilitating crisis. The film raises broad and significant questions about who profits from and controls access to our natural resources.
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Each event will be held from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm in the Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education Auditorium. For more information or to reserve seats, please contact Jody Brumage at (304) 876-5648 or email@example.com.
Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
This 2017 film delves into the trial between Hulk Hogan and Gawker Media and examines the duties of the press in an age of inequality. The duel pitted privacy rights against freedom of the press and raised questions about how big money can silence the media. Described as "riveting and resonant," the film highlights several interweaving factors threatening to "squash the essential power of the press."