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Ethics in Journalism


This lesson plan is designed to accompany the film The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. The intent of this lesson is to familiarize students with the release of the Pentagon Papers and some of the broader issues, questions and considerations it raised. It is a college-level curriculum.
Curriculum Link: Author: Professor Charles Lewis and Jennifer Collins, American University School of Communication,

Expected Student Outcomes/Objectives

• Understand the historical context of the release of the Pentagon Papers
• Analyze the First Amendment and the ethical considerations associated with freedom of speech
• Evaluate the public impact of the release of government documents
• Discuss the future of journalism, as it pertains to freedom of the press

Description of Activities

This lesson plan uses clips from The Most Dangerous Man in America, a film about Daniel Ellsberg, a leading Vietnam War strategist, who concluded in 1971 that America’s role in the war is based on decades of lies. He leaks 7,000 pages of top-secret documents to The New York Times, a daring act of conscience that leads directly to Watergate, President Nixon’s resignation and the end of the Vietnam War. The lesson plan presumes that students have previewed the film outside of class. The seminar-type discussion questions are aimed at an advanced level of discussion, covering substantial background readings. Links are embedded on the site. The first lesson reviews the events, the second lesson raises ethical considerations. Students are required to prepare reports on other whistleblowers in government, which are presented during the third class session. The remaining class time in the third session is a class discussion of the future of journalism and freedom of the press.

Instructional Materials Needed

Internet access and equipment to conduct research and show the class online video clips and resources (as detailed in each lesson)

Instructional Materials Provided

Complete lesson plans, including discussion questions and links to readings, extensions and activities.

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Additional criteria

Cost: Free

Curriculum type: Lesson

Academic subject areas: History/Social Sciences; English

States' Career Clusters: Law, Public Safety, Corrections & Secruity; Government & Public Administration; Arts, Audio-Video Technology, Communications

California Industry sector(s): Public Services; Arts, Media, and Entertainment

Duration: Three 50 minute sessions

Grade Targets: 12, Post high school

Level of Expertise for CTE: Capstone/Advanced

Standards Addressed: Detailed documentation of alignment with Common Core, NGSS, C3 or CTE Standards provided

Keywords: Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, ethics, government, journalism, Vietnam war

Source: Organization/Publisher-developed

Curriculum Link:

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