The president of the American Newspaper Publishers Association accused the Supreme Court today of acting "above the law" in its handling of the nation's press.
Allen H. Neuharth, chairman of the Gannett Co., the nation's largest newspaper chain, told the 93rd annual ANPA convention that the Supreme Court "has battered holes in the First Amendemtn big enough to drive the whole Constitution through."
"The courts," he said, "have destroyed our shield law, sent our reporters to jail, held our editors in contempt and fined publishers."
The ANPA also heard Gen. Alexander Haig, the outgoing NATO commander, calk for a new style of American leadership to combat a growing Soviet military threat. Haig's speech renewed speculation that he may run for the presidencly.
The 54-year-old general, who served as White House chief of staff during the final embattled months of the Nixon administration, said the United States and its Western allies "cannot accept and must challenge illegal Soviet interventionism and force of arms in the Third World."
Haig ducked questions about political plans. "I have not made any decisions about the future and will not until I complete my tour of duty," he said. Haig retires June 30 as commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces.
Neul arth, in his subsequent speech, accused the "Burger court" in particular and the judiciary in general of "developing a state of mind that is above the law, even above the Constitution."
He was especially critical of the high court's recent ruling that attorneys for former Army colonel Anthony Herbert in his libel suti against the Columbia Broadcasting System had the right to delve into a reporter's state of mind at the time a particular article was written.
"This nation does not need or want rummaging of the minds of newspaper people," Neuharth said. "This nation does need an examination of the state of mind of the majority of the members of the Burger court."
In an interview afterward, Neubarth said "the courts are not a real threat to The New York Times, The Washington Post or CBS. It's the newspapers in Traverse City, Mich., or other small towns that don't have the ability to fight them."
The ANPA announced today that it is establishing a "First Amendment legal fund" through which the larger, richer newspapers could help finance the legal battles of papers in smaller towns. Neuhrath said the fund would aid newspapers "where the resources of the media are more limited and the balance of power shifts to police and sheriffs and lawyers and judges bent on stilling the local voices of freedom."
More than 75 percent of the 1,335 ANPA member newspapers have circulations of less than 50,000 and the majority are now owned by chains or newspaper groups.