Neil Sheehan, reporter who obtained Pentagon Papers, dies at 84

Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Neil Sheehan died on Thursday, his family said. He was 84.

Sheehan's wife, Susan Sheehan, and daughter, Catherine Sheehan Bruno, said the Vietnam War correspondent known for obtaining the Pentagon Papers for The New York Times died due to complications from Parkinson's disease, The Times and Politico reported.


Born on Oct. 27, 1936, in Holyoke, Mass., Sheehan graduated from Harvard in 1958 and joined the Army, where he worked as a journalist. He moonlighted for UPI at the agency's Asian headquarters in Tokyo.

Upon leaving the Army in 1962, UPI hired Sheehan and sent him to work in Saigon as a staff correspondent. There, observing the destruction and bloodshed of war, he first began to question the United States' role in Vietnam.

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He gained a reputation as one of the so-called "fearless threesome" of war correspondents, which included Malcolm Browne of the Associated Press and David Halberstam of The Times. They became known for digging up details about the war that challenged the more upbeat daily military briefings, The Washington Post reported.


"I simply cannot help worrying that, in the process of waging this war, we are corrupting ourselves," he wrote in The New York Times Magazine in 1966. "I wonder, when I look at the bombed-out peasant hamlets, the orphans begging and stealing on the streets of Saigon and the women and children with napalm burns lying on the hospital cots, whether the United States or any nation has the right to inflict this suffering and degradation on another people for its own ends."

After establishing himself as a reputable reporter, The Times hired Sheehan in 1964 and and sent him to Vietnam.

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Seven years later, Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department analyst, leaked the Pentagon papers to Sheehan, providing 7,000 pages of classified documents revealing that the government was deceptive about U.S. prospects for victory in the war.

The Nixon administration obtained an injunction against the publication of the report, saying national security was at stake.

The issue was taken to the Supreme Court, which on June 30, 1971, ruled 6-3 in favor of allowing The New York Times and The Washington Post to publish their stories.

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The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize in public service in 1972 for the Pentagon Papers coverage and its editors praised Sheehan for obtaining the documents.


After the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Sheehan published his book, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, which won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer in 1989 as he described his disillusionment with the war.

Sheehan is survived by his wife, two brothers Patrick and Eugene, two daughters Maria Sheehan and Catherine Sheehan Bruno and two grandsons.

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