The Pentagon Papers And The Public’s Right To Know – 1971 – Past Daily Reference Room
The Pentagon Papers – one of the biggest scandals of the 1970s. A scandal which many think had some hand in ending the Vietnam War, certainly changing a few minds about the direction America was taking in that war.
At the center of the scandal was Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, a former Marine Corps Officer and strategic Analyst for the RAND corporation who also worked in the Pentgon and contributed to a top-secret study of classified documents on the conduct of the Vietnam War that had been commissioned by Defense Secretary McNamara. These documents, completed in 1968, later became known collectively as the Pentagon Papers.
The Pentagon Papers was a 47-volume document chronicling the history of the U.S.’s political and military involvement in Vietnam from World War II to the document’s creation. The report, which consisted of 3,000 pages of narrative and 4,000 pages of supporting documents, was commissioned by the Department of Defense in 1967 and completed in 1969.
The papers contained a great deal of damaging information on the U.S.’ controversial involvement in Vietnam. Among the claims found in the documents were revelations that President John F. Kennedy actively helped to assassinate and overthrow South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963; that the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam had “no real impact on the enemy’s will to fight,” contradicting the U.S. government’s public pronouncements; that President Lyndon B. Johnson began planning war against Vietnam in 1964, one year before the U.S.’ involvement in Vietnam became publicly known; and that Johnson ordered the bombing of North Vietnam against the U.S. intelligence community’s advice — among other pieces of damaging information.
Ellsberg, who came to oppose the Vietnam War by the time of the report’s release, created photocopies of the document from September 1969 to November 1969, with an eye toward making their damaging revelations known. After the report’s existence was first reported in March 1971 by the Boston Globe, New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan received the Pentagon Papers in full from Ellsberg and the paper began preparing for their public release.
The Times began reporting on the Pentagon Papers on June 13, 1971, publishing an article entitled “Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces 3 Decades of Growing U. S. Involvement.” The Times continued to report stories on June 14 and June 15, 1971 about the papers, along with publishing actual documents from the report itself in the newspaper.
After the paper’s initial three stories, however, the U.S. government got involved, as the disclosure of the classified documents reportedly proved “embarrassing” to then-president Richard Nixon. The U.S. Department of Justice issued a temporary restraining order in a federal court that prevented the Times from publishing additional information from the report after the June 15 story, citing the “immediate and irreparable harm” the report’s information would have on U.S. defense interests.
This Special Report from NBC Radio concerns the Supreme Court Decision (6-3) that The Washington Post and The New York Times had every right to publish the papers, under protection of the 1st Amendment. This radio report covers that action as well as reaction from the Press and Daniel Ellsberg to that decision.
The rest, as they say, is history.