Friday, January 28, 2011

Challenger Disaster Anniversary and Presidential Documents

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. The Challenger disintegrated seventy-three seconds after launch and that evening President Reagan, in lieu of his scheduled State of the Union address, spoke to the nation on the loss of the shuttle and its seven astronauts. His remarks, written by then-speechwriter and now-Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, comforted the nation and evoked the tenuous nature of life with the words of WWII-era pilot and poet John Gillespie Magee, quoting his poem High Flight to say that the Challenger crew had “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God”.

The text of Reagan’s address to the nation twenty-five years ago is available for free on the internet in many places, including at the Reagan Presidential Library and on other web pages. But what if you wanted to cite it? The Bluebook "requires the use and citation of traditional printed sources" but allows for citing to a "digital copy of the source available that is authenticated, official, or an exact copy of the printed source". The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation R. 18.2, at 165 (19th ed. 2010) [hereinafter Bluebook]. (Yes, the Bluebook requires any citation to itself to include, at least initially, its full, formal title; Bluebook R.15.8 at 145.) None of the free web sites where Reagan's remarks appear meet this criteria for being an authentic, official, or exact copy.

The official repository of speeches, press conferences, and other public pronouncements of presidents since Herbert Hoover is the series Public Papers of the Presidents, located in the stacks at J 80 .A284. It is essentially an archival edition of the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, for presidents up through Bush the 2nd, and of the new Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents, for President Obama and his successors.

An on-line version of the Public Papers series is available through the official web site for this series at GPOAccess.Gov, but it only covers presidential documents back to the second half of the Bush Senior administration. (Note: the GPOAccess system of official, on-line documents from the federal government is soon to be replaced by the Federal Digital System, or "FDSys". Hopefully old links in blog posts like this will be automatically re-directed when the change-over is complete.)

Thus, for older volumes of the Public Papers series, you would need to use the print edition we have here in the law library, or find it through the Presidential Library on Hein On-Line, if you’re at a library that has access to Hein, like we do. So the correct Bluebook citation for Reagan’s address that day would be to the Public Papers series by volume and page, with the date in parenthesis:

Address to the Nation on the Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, 1 Pub. Papers 94 (January 28, 1986).

See Bluebook 224 tbl. T1.

Reagan’s post-Challenger remarks recall another, earlier presidential speech that, luckily, the nation never heard. In the summer of 1969 as America watched Apollo 11's voyage to mankind’s first landing on the moon, an address to the nation was prepared for President Nixon to use in case of a tragedy that would strand the astronauts on the lunar surface with no hope of rescue. Of course, the speech wasn't needed and was forgotten until its author, White House speechwriter and future New York Times columnist/word maven William Safire, was reminded of it by a researcher who found it in the Nixon papers at the National Archives. It is not, obviously, part of the Public Papers set for the Nixon administration, but the National Archives has it online as two large JPEG images, and the Smoking Gun has it in a format that is a bit more convenient to read.

How would you cite Safire’s never-used speech? When a document is not available in an official resource, such as is the case here, the Bluebook allows for citing to web pages like the National Archives or the Smoking Gun, so a good citation that incorporates the title of the memo containing the speech, its author (as it is given on the memo), and the URL for the web page, might look something like this:

Bill Safire, In Event of Moon Disaster (July 18, 1969),

See Bluebook R. 18.2.2.

And, of course, Reagan's address back in 1986 is available on YouTube, here courtesy of the Reagan Presidential Library:

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