Jack Landau, 74, a founder of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, died Aug. 9 of complications from emphysema at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington County. He was a longtime Falls Church, Va., resident.
The committee, a Washington-based legal defense and research center for reporters, was created in 1970, when the nation's news media were facing an increasing number of government subpoenas demanding that reporters name confidential sources.
A group of journalists, including Benjamin Bradlee of The Washington Post, Mike Wallace of CBS and Tom Wicker of The New York Times, gathered at Georgetown University to discuss the need to provide legal assistance. They formed a committee that initially operated part time.
Landau, a reporter-lawyer covering the U.S. Supreme Court for Newhouse News Service, was an early member of the steering committee. He also started the First Amendment Hotline, the first free legal guidance service for journalists involved in First Amendment and freedom-of-information issues.
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During his tenure as executive director of the Reporters Committee from 1970 to 1985, the organization filed suit for access to more than 40 million White House documents and tapes held by former President Nixon, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's official telephone transcripts and FBI arrest records.
Landau also spoke out regularly on First Amendment issues. In 1983, he criticized a decision of the Reagan administration to allow only a “pool” of 20 or 30 reporters to cover the invasion of Grenada. The Pentagon's policy was “contrary to the public interest, because people want to know what's happening in Grenada,” he said.
In 1984, he warned that a Supreme Court decision upholding libel suits against the National Enquirer and Hustler magazine would encourage more legal action and efforts to find states with the easiest standards for bringing libel cases to court.
“Everybody knows if (the) press is going to be financially threatened, that it is a more effective way to impose censorship,” he told United Press International.
Jacob Charles “Jack” Landau was born in Englewood, N.J., and received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University in 1956. He received his law degree from New York University in 1961.
He began his journalism career as a reporter with the Bergen Evening Record in 1957, then moved to The Associated Press in 1960. He was a reporter with The Post from 1963 to 1966 and with Newhouse Newspapers from 1966 to 1968.
In 1968, he became director of public information at the Justice Department under Attorney General John Mitchell.
After leaving the Reporters Committee as executive director, he wrote a syndicated column about law for New house Newspapers until his retirement in 1992.