In re Pappas

LOCATION: Black Panther Headquarters

DOCKET NO.: 70-94
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)

CITATION: 408 US 665 (1972)
ARGUED: Feb 23, 1972
DECIDED: Jun 29, 1972

E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr. - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Joseph J. Hurley - Argued the cause for the respondent
William Bradford Reynolds - Argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance

Facts of the case

Pappas, a television newsman and photographer working out of a Providence RI office of a New Bedford MA television station, was called to New Bedford to report on civil disorders involving fires and other turmoil. Pappas intended to cover a Black Panther news conference. Pappas was admitted inside the Panther headquarters after agreeing that he would not disclose anything he saw or heard. Pappas stayed for three hours. He did not write a story based on his experience. Pappas was later summoned before a grand jury but he refused to answer questions about events that took place inside Panther headquarters.


Did the First Amendment's freedom of the press protect Pappas from appearing and testifying before the grand jury?

Media for In re Pappas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 23, 1972 in In re Pappas

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in 70-94, in the matter of Paul Pappas.

Mr. Prettyman you may proceed whenever you’re ready.

E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

I represent the petitioner in this case, Paul Pappas.

This is the third case in the trilogy now, before the Court involving the First Amendment, a newsman.

The facts in the case are relatively simple.

Mr. Pappas is an experienced, professional newsman-photographer for WTEV-TV and with its principal offices in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

The station covers all of Rhode Island, part of Massachusetts, part of Connecticut.

On July 30, 1970, he was in Providence, Rhode Island, when he received a call from his station, telling him to go to New Bedford.

They seemed to be burning down New Bedford, was the message that he got, they were not identified.

He went to New Bedford, to the west end of the town where apparently that’s his orders had been described for him and he there ran into a barricade.

He therefore returned to the New Bedford office, after which he received another call, from his superiors telling him that he went back to the area, he would be allowed into the area through the barricade.

He returned and he set up his cameras outside a boarded-up variety store, which apparently was being used as headquarters for the Black Panthers.

He set up his camera and a spokesman for the Panthers came out of the store with about a dozen blacks.

They gathered and the spokesman gave a press interview.

There were approximately five newsmen present, including Mr. Pappas.

All of the films which Mr. Pappas took of the news conference were subsequently given to and viewed by the District Attorney.

The next sequence of facts which actually gave rise to this case were prompted by two occurrences.

First, during the news conference, the spokesman said that the police would be allowed into the store if they had search warrants, if they conducted themselves in a gentlemanly manner and if they were accompanied by the news media.

The second occurrence was that at a kind of side conference after the spokesman has gotten through with this more formal press conference, the Panthers complained to Mr. Pappas that the news media always covered the side of the police in circumstances such as these.

And on this point, Mr. Pappas said, “Well, that’s because the media are never allowed to show any other side.”

Now it was as a result of these two occurrences that the Panthers then agreed with Mr. Pappas that he would be allowed into their headquarters that evening, to spend the night if he wished, if he came back personally, but there was a condition.

If there was a raid, they said, he would be allowed to report and photograph anything that took place.

On the other hand, if there was no raid, there was no raid, any as he put it anything I saw or heard would be strictly in confidence.

Later that night, after he had been accompanied back to and into the headquarters, these conditions were reimposed.

They were specifically stated again and he again agreed to them.

As a matter of fact there was adverse comment about whether he might not be a police stoolie and he assured them no, he was there as a representative of the press.

He understands he was that if there was a police raid, he was free to cover it.

If there was no police raid, he would keep whatever he saw or heard in confidence.

Warren E. Burger:

Suppose right there, Mr. Prettyman that an unexpected event took place then, not the police raid, but suppose some internal quarrel of the group resulted in one of them killing another in his site.