The Pentagon Papers

Published: 1971
Play Audio Archive Story - UPI

Announcer: Patricia Nixon wedding was dutifully reported the next day in newspapers in all over the nation, but on that Sunday, June 13th, one paper had something on the front page that no other paper had. For on that day, the New York Times began publishing top secret, sensitive details, and documents from 47 volumes, that comprised the history of the U.S. decision making process on Vietnam policy, better known as the Pentagon Papers.

After the government said the publication of this material would cause irreparable injury to the defense interest of the United States, a federal judge ordered the Times to temporarily halt the publication of the papers. The Times said, ‘What was revealed, had to be revealed. That people had the right to know.’ Times publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger.

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger: “Newspapers, as our editorial said this morning, we're really a part of history that should have been made available, considerably longer ago. I just didn't feel there was any breach of national security, in the sense that we were giving secrets to the enemy.”

Announcer: The argument moved swiftly to the Supreme Court, which ruled six to three that the first amendment guarantee of a free press outweighed the government's claim to potential harm to national security.

One of the more enlightening facts disclosed by the papers was the point that the decisions to bomb North Vietnam was made by President Johnson before the 1964 elections. It was the President's opponent, Barry Goldwater, who was an advocate of that very position.

Barry Goldwater: “During the campaign, President Johnson kept reiterating that he would never send American boys to fight in Vietnam. As I say, he knew at the time that American boys were going to be sent. In fact, I knew about ten days before the Republican Convention. You see I was being called a trigger-happy, warmonger, bomb happy, and all the time Johnson was saying, he would never sent American boys, I knew damn well he would.”

Announcer: Birch Bayh was one of the Senators who thought the publication of the Pentagon Papers was the right thing to do.

Birch Bayh: “The existence of these documents, and the fact that they said one thing and the people were led to believe something else, is a reason we have a credibility gap today, the reason people don't believe the government. This is the same thing that's been going on over the last two-and-a-half years of this administration. There is a difference between what the President says and what the government actually does, and I have confidence that they are going to make the right decision, if they have all the facts.”

Announcer: Two days before the Supreme Court decision, Daniel Ellsberg, an MIT Senior Research Associate, surrendered to federal authorities in Boston and admitted giving the papers to the press. He was indicted by a grand jury in Los Angeles on charges of having stolen and held secret documents.

Daniel Ellsberg: “I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.”