Supreme Court leak inquiry exposes gray area of press protections

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There is a well-established but uneven pattern in American law that applies to government secrets and the journalists who uncover them. The First Amendment generally protects the publication of a leak, but not the leaker.

An authority no less than the Supreme Court has made it this way. In 1971, as the justices prepared to rule that the government could not prevent The New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers — one of the biggest leak cases in history — the source of that leak, Daniel Ellsberg, was indicted by a federal grand jury for theft.

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