Top Secret Blog Re-lauch!

Welcome to the newly-redesigned Top Secret blog!  Founded in 2007 and redesigned in 2010, this blog will report on Top Secret performances and related events and track news and policy developments tied to the themes raised by Top Secret.

News and commentary to be highlighted here will focus on government secrecy, press freedoms, classification and declassification of information, journalist ethics, and national security and the media.  Audio, interviews, and related content from Top Secret performances and discussions will also live here.  Posts on these themes from past years have been imported into this new blog format.

Top Secret will run at New York Theatre Workshop starting Feb. 24, 2010, with post-show discussions on twelve dates in February and March, starting Feb. 25.  Click here for show information and here for information on scheduled panel discussions.

Los Angeles Performance Finale

As Top Secret ended its final run at the Skirball Cultural Center, the Los Angeles Times published an excellent preview piece, and a later op-ed relating the Pentagon Papers episode to current events, and there have been a number of stories about the impressive slate of events held as part of the collaboration between Top Secret and Sunshine Week, including a panel that followed the March 13 performance, (which was replayed in radio form on KPCC-FM in Los Angeles on June 28). The dialogue after the final live performance was led by Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition. Panelists were  David C. Kohler, 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 and Journalism. “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,” said David Westphal, Washington editor for McClatchy Newspapers and co-chair of the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Freedom of Information Committee.” You can also view two of the post-show panels including John Dean and Bob Shear.  Sunshine Week is a national initiative that encourages discussions about the importance of open government and freedom of information led by ASNE. Additionally, two new books, one about Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell (which has been garnering attention and controversy), and one about the history of research at the  RAND corporation, will be sure to continue to provide insight into this historical period. UPDATE: The Boston Globe recently published an excellent op-ed from its former editor commemorating the anniversary of their publication of the Pentagon Papers.

New Pentagon Papers?

A recent piece in Slate (“I Want My Pentagon Papers!”) asks whether a recent New York Times article on a report by RAND Corp. regarding the Iraq war planning would be equivalent to a modern-day Pentagon papers, and questions whether the Times should release full the text of the report, and the Daily Kos asked the same question about a recent Pentagon Report that characterized the war as a ‘debacle’.

Meanwhile, the Top Secret tour wrapped up a performance at Penn State University (video), and one at the University of Pennsylvania that was met with acclaim by the Philadephia Inquirer and other outlets . The show’s final performance after its 23-city tour will be in Los Angeles this March. The issues explored by this docudrama take on an even deeper resonance as Congress debates secrecy in the reform proposals and liability implications for the nation’s wiretapping programs, as the executive enacts cuts in funding for the ombudsman position of the recently reformed FOIA system, and as presidential candidates debate ways to break the current culture of secrecy.

‘Pentagon Papers’ Return to Washington Post

The theatre section of the Washington Post, the newspaper that itself is a key subject of Top Secret, published a glowing article and photo slide show about the play, as a precusor to the engagement at the University of Maryland, which featured a pre-show discussion that brought former Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee and Daniel Ellsberg together for their first-ever meeting. The panel was moderated by American Journalism Review President Thomas Kunkel and the performance was attended by several key figures who were subjects of the play.This came after very successful events in Iowa,  critically-acclaimed performances (“It’s no Secret: these guys can act!”) in Sprinfield, Illinois and WashU, insightful panels in Columbia, Mo. (which will be rebroadcast and webstreamed on KBIA on March 9),  good reviews at UConn (hailing a “Top” notch performance), and an Asheville, N.C. peformance that was a source of lasting inspiration, as was the Wake Forest presentation, a recording of which was aired and web-streamed live on WFDD on Feb. 10. (the same day as the Sarasota, Fl. performance). The tour continues to Penn State on Feb. 13 and then on to California in March.

Spring Tour Kicks Off Strong

The Spring Tour of “Top Secret: the Battle for the Pentagon Papers” has begun with a comprehensive and exciting kick-off at Wake Forest University which is generating great ‘buzz’ , including a review calling it a “joy to watch” and an excellent column about the actress playing Katharine Graham. As part of that university’s “Voices of our Time” series, the performance will be accompanied by an address by Daniel Ellsberg, as well as radio broadcasts. The Wake Forest engagement will be followed by a two-day performance at the Diana Wortham Theatre in North Carolina, and then on to a great program at  University of Richmond Jan 22-23, which is being widely anticipated. There are also compelling events planned to accompany the performance on Jan. 28-29 at the University of Iowa, as well as mounting excitement for the Feb. 6 Concord, N. H. performance. Click here to read what audiences are saying about the play.

Fall Tour Wraps Up; Government – Press Tension Continues

The Fall 2007 tour of Top Secret, which opened in Hampton, Va., visited universities across the country, including Stanford, and concluded with a performance in Omaha, Nebraska — picking up critical acclaim along the way. Preparations for the 2008 tour are underway, and the kick-off for the second leg of the national tour will be at Wake Forest University on Jan. 17.

But as the tour closed, revelations surfaced about the New York Times, once again withholding information at the request of government officials: “The New York Times has known details of the secret program for more than three years… The newspaper agreed to delay publication of the article after considering a request from the Bush administration, which argued that premature disclosure could hurt the effort to secure the weapons…. Early this week, the White House withdrew its request that publication be withheld, though it was unwilling to discuss details of the program.”

Does this represent another example of the Times holding the story to prevent upsetting a political balance, as it has been accused of doing with the NSA wiretapping story, or is it an example, as piece author David Sanger claims, of the Times holding the story only until as long as necessary for security matters. The discussions around this and other topics will be dynamic as the 2008 tour gets underway.

Nebraska Symposium Success

The University of Nebraska ‘Echoes of Project X’ Symposium was a huge success in Lincoln this week. Both pre- and post-production discussions were hosted by playwright Geoffrey Cowan and events included a discussion with former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, Thomas Jefferson Center director Robert O’Neil, UNL Journalism professor John Bender and UNL law professor Eric Berger. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus made remarks, and it was capped off by an address by Daniel Ellsberg. Video of the event is available here.

Excitement Builds for Tour; Shield Law Heads to Senate

As the national tour of Top Secret moves from Hampton, Va. and  Collegeville, Minn., excitement is building in upcoming locations, such as Oxford, Ohio , University of Nebraska,  Scottsdale, Ariz.,  Tucson, Ariz., and the University of Arkansas.  At the same time the production is taking off at full steam, the U.S. House debated and passed a reporter’s shield bill, which now makes its way to the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved its own bill, and now the reconciliation process will take place despite White House promises to veto. The Citizen Media Law Project analyzes the merits of each bill.