Discussion on Open Government will follow L.A. Theatre Works March 13 Production of Pentagon Papers Docudrama
California First Amendment Coalition Director Peter Scheer to Lead Panel
Washington — Sunshine Week will host a discussion on open government and secrecy issues following a Thursday, March 13, L.A. Theatre Works production of “Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers” in Los Angeles.
The dialogue will be led by Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition. Panelists will be David C. Kohle, former CNN general counsel who now is director of the Donald E. Biederman Entertainment and Media Law Institute and Professor of Law, Southwestern Law School, Los Angeles; and Marc Cooper, lecturer and associate director of USC Annenberg Institute for Justice in Journalism, Los Angeles, who serves as contributing editor to The Nation, columnist for L.A. Weekly, and is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic and blogger for the Huffington Post.
“This partnership provides an exciting and creative new avenue to engage people in the discussion about how important it is to our democracy to protect people’s right to information — no matter whether it comes from an official source or an anonymous one,” said David Westphal, Washington editor for McClatchy Newspapers and co-chair of the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Freedom of Information Committee. “We’re very appreciative of L.A. Theatre Works’ and the California First Amendment Coalition’s support and hard work on this event in particular, and of Sunshine Week and open government issues throughout the year.”
Sunshine Week, www.sunshineweek.org, is a national initiative that encourages discussions about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Led by ASNE with print, broadcast and online journalists, participants include civic groups, non-profits, schools, libraries, scientists, government officials, actors and others. The 2008 Sunshine Campaign is a yearlong effort to have candidates for all level of office — from the presidency to city council — discuss their position on government access issues.
Written by Geoffrey Cowan and the late Leroy Aarons, “Top Secret” recreates events as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and staff fought Nixon administration attempts restrain publication of the Pentagon Papers, secret government documents about the war in Vietnam. The play is based on interviews with participants and hearing transcripts — including events inside the judge’s chambers, which were obtained using the Freedom of Information Act. The play, originally staged in 1991, has its own Web site at www.topsecretplay.com.
The two-act play is directed by John Rubinstein and stars Gregory Harrison, John Heard, Susan Sullivan, and John Vickery, as well as Diane Adair, Bo Foxworth, James Gleason, Russell Soder, Peter van Norden, Tom Virtue, and Geoffrey Wade.
“The publication of the Pentagon Papers is rightly remembered as the finest hour for an assertive American press,” said Scheer. “Geoffrey Cowan and Leroy Aarons’ play offers a wonderful opportunity to explore First Amendment rights, the tension between government and news media, and the question whether the Pentagon Papers would be published today.”
On the final stop of its national tour, “Top Secret” will run March 12-16 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Performances on those dates and the discussions following will be recorded for L.A. Theatre Works’ “The Play’s the Thing” series, which is broadcast on satellite and public radio. More information about the production, including how to purchase tickets, can be found online at www.latw.org.
L.A. Theatre Works also has produced a free classroom study guide that can be downloaded from its Web site at www.latw.org/alivealoud/top_secret.html. The guide includes background information about the play and its authors; an essay about the free press by James C. Goodale, general counsel to The New York Times during the case; an interview with Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the documents to the Times; vocabulary words relevant to the play; thinking, writing and reading exercises; suggested research projects; talking points for classroom discussions; a bibliography; and online resources.
“We are delighted to partner with Sunshine Week and look forward to an illuminating discussion lead by Peter Scheer on the importance of transparency in a democratic society,” said Susan Albert Loewenberg, L.A. Theatre Works producing director. “Our docudrama, ‘Top Secret: The Battle for The Pentagon Papers,’ by Geoffrey Cowan and Leroy Aarons, is the perfect springboard for such a discussion.”
Cowan is Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication, where he also is dean emeritus. Aarons, who died in 2004, was a journalist working for The Washington Post during the Pentagon Papers challenge, and was the founder of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, which is also a Sunshine Week participant.
The Play’s the Thing airs locally every Saturday night from 10 p.m. to midnight on 89.3 KPCC in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and is streamed live on KPCC’s Web site, www.kpcc.org, for one week following each broadcast. The series can also be heard on 94.7 KPFA in Northern California; 91.1 FM KRCB in Sonoma County; 89.7 WGBH in Boston; 94.9 KUOW in Seattle; 89.9 KUNM in Santa Fe, NM; 91.5 WBEZ in Chicago, other smaller community and public radio stations nationwide, and everywhere in the U.S. on XM Satellite Radio.
Selected programs can also be heard internationally on Voice of America, BBC World Service, Canadian Broadcasting, Australian Broadcasting, RTE (Ireland), Radio Hong Kong, and Radio New Zealand.
The L.A. Theatre Works Audio Theatre Collection is available in bookstores, libraries, through their catalog, and digitally on www.audible.com, www.latw.org and iTunes.
The California First Amendment Coalition, www.cfac.org, is a nonprofit public interest organization dedicated to advancing free speech and open-government rights. A membership organization, CFAC’s activities include educational and informational programs, participation in “test case” litigation to enhance First Amendment rights for the largest number of citizens, and legislative oversight of bills affecting free speech.
CFAC is a nonpartisan and politically non-ideological public-interest organization. Membership spans the political spectrum, from libertarian-oriented conservatives to liberals who see big government as a threat to individual liberties. All are passionate about the importance, for self-government, of freedom of speech and government transparency.
Scheer, a lawyer and a journalist, has been executive director of CFAC since June 2004. He formerly was editor and publisher of The Recorder, a daily legal newspaper in San Francisco, and publisher of Legal Times, in Washington, D.C. Scheer practiced appellate law in Washington, both in the U.S. Justice Department and in private practice. He was a partner in the firm of Onek, Klein & Farr, and was general counsel to the National Security Archive. Scheer has argued appellate cases in most of the federal courts of appeal and in the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, where he was a member of the Harvard Law Review.
Sunshine Week, www.sunshineweek.org, is a non-partisan open government initiative led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, www.asne.org, with online and broadcast media, public officials, celebrities, civic groups, non-profits, libraries, schools, religious leaders and others. The 2008 Sunshine Campaign is designed to spur campaign conversation — and commitment — to open government during this election year by encouraging journalists, and anyone else with the opportunity, to ask every candidate for public office from president to city council to explain his or her positions on open government and Freedom of Information issues.
Sunshine Week is endowed through a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, www.knightfdn.org, which invests in journalism excellence worldwide and the vitality of the 26 communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. It focuses on projects with the potential to create transformational change.
For Sunshine Week:
Debra Gersh Hernandez
For L.A. Theatre Works:
(818) 887-1499 (not for publication)