Discussion Questions

You can use the following prompts to guide students to think more deeply about the issues raised in News War. [Note: The first five questions are also available in a student handout to help students focus their attention while viewing.]

  1. What are "checks and balances" and why are they important in a democracy?
  2. Conservative media pundit Patrick Buchanan told FRONTLINE, "The battle between the White House and the national media is the battle over who controls the national agenda." In your view, who should control the national agenda? Should either have total control over the national agenda? Why or why not? How does each of these institutions (the government and the press) represent the public?
  3. Both The New York Times and The Washington Post printed stories about secret government programs. Why do some people see the papers' actions as patriotic while others think the publishers should be tried under the Espionage Act?
  4. Should the San Francisco Chronicle reporters who wrote about steroids in baseball be held to the same standards about revealing sources as reporters who write about national security issues? Why or why not?
  5. Given what you have seen in News War, describe the role of news media in a democracy.
  6. Former White House Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, is quoted as saying "Congress has a check and balance function. The judiciary does. But not the press." Do you think the Founding Fathers would have agreed with him? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  7. Under what conditions, if any, would it be appropriate for a journalist to publish or broadcast government secrets?
  8. Under what conditions, if any, would it be appropriate for government to prevent media from reporting on government's programs or actions?
  9. What did you think about the government arguments against the publishing of stories on the NSA (National Security Agency) wiretaps, monitoring of citizens' banking activity, or CIA detention camps?
  10. Did you see any evidence of bias in the film? Why or why not?