The New York Times publishes the “Pentagon Papers” - HISTORY
Year
1971

The New York Times publishes the “Pentagon Papers”

The New York Times begins publishing portions of the 47-volume Pentagon analysis of how the U.S. commitment in Southeast Asia grew over a period of three decades. Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department analyst who had become an antiwar activist, had stolen the documents. After unsuccessfully offering the documents to prominent opponents of the war in the U.S. Senate, Ellsberg gave them to the Times.

Officially called The History of the U.S. Decision Making Process on Vietnam, the “Pentagon Papers” disclosed closely guarded communiques, recommendations, and decisions concerning the U.S. military role in Vietnam during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, along with the diplomatic phase in the Eisenhower years. The publication of the papers created a nationwide furor, with congressional and diplomatic reverberations as all branches of the government debated over what constituted “classified” material and how much should be made public.

The publication of the documents precipitated a crucial legal battle over “the people’s right to know,” and led to an extraordinary session of the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the issue. Although the documents were from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, President Richard Nixon opposed their publication, both to protect the sources in highly classified appendices, and to prevent further erosion of public support for the war. On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled that the Times had the right to publish the material.

The publication of the “Pentagon Papers,” along with previous suspected disclosures of classified information to the press, led to the creation of a White House unit to plug information leaks to journalists. The illegal activities of the unit, known as the “Plumbers,” and their subsequent cover-up, became known collectively as the Watergate scandal, which resulted in President Nixon’s resignation in August 1974.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Pioneer 10 departs solar system

After more than a decade in space, Pioneer 10, the world’s first outer-planetary probe, leaves the solar system. The next day, it radioed back its first scientific data on interstellar space.On March 2, 1972, the NASA spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a ...read more

Peasant army marches into London

During the Peasants’ Revolt, a large mob of English peasants led by Wat Tyler marches into London and begins burning and looting the city. Several government buildings were destroyed, prisoners were released, and a judge was beheaded along with several dozen other leading ...read more

Tutu meets with Botha

Bishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Prize for Peace, meets with South African President P.W. Botha to discuss the nationwide state of emergency declared by Botha in response to the anti-apartheid protests. “This is not likely to help restore law and order and peace and ...read more

Alexander the Great dies

Alexander the Great, the young Macedonian military genius who forged an empire stretching from the eastern Mediterranean to India, dies in Babylon, in present-day Iraq, at the age of 33.Born in Macedonia to King Phillip II and Queen Olympias, Alexander received a classical ...read more

The Miranda rights are established

On this day in 1966, the Supreme Court hands down its decision in Miranda v. Arizona, establishing the principle that all criminal suspects must be advised of their rights before interrogation. Now considered standard police procedure, “You have the right to remain silent. ...read more

Christy Matthewson throws second no-hitter

On June 13, 1905, pitcher Christy Matthewson of the New York Giants throws the second no-hitter of his career to lead his Giants to a 1-0 win over the powerful Chicago Cubs.Matthewson, known simply as “Matty” to his adoring fans, enjoyed a successful athletic career at Bucknell ...read more

Meriwether Lewis reaches the Great Falls

Having hurried ahead of the main body of the expedition, Meriwether Lewis and four men arrive at the Great Falls of the Missouri River, confirming that the explorers are headed in the right direction.Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had set out on their expedition to the ...read more

Dorothy Sayers is born

Mystery writer Dorothy Sayers, creator of detective Lord Peter Wimsey, is born on this day in Oxford, England.Sayers, whose father was an Oxford teacher and minister, became one of the first women to receive a degree from Oxford. Although the family moved to the country when ...read more

Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita released

“How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?” was the question posed by the posters advertising Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s famously controversial novel, released on this day in 1962.Four years earlier, Kubrick, director of the big-budget Roman epic ...read more

Hurricane Agnes is born

On this day in 1972, severe weather conditions over the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico begin to converge and form a tropical depression that would become Hurricane Agnes over the next two weeks. By the time the storm dissipated, damages were in the billions and 121 people were ...read more

Jurors begin deliberations in Susan Polk trial

On June 13, 2006, jurors began deliberations in the trial of Susan Polk, 48, for the October 2002 murder of her psychotherapist husband Felix Polk, 70, in a poolside cottage at the couple’s Orinda, California, home. Felix was stabbed and cut 27 times and had suffered blunt force ...read more

Grant swings toward Petersburg

On this day, the bulk of the Army of the Potomac begins moving towards Petersburg, Virginia, precipitating a siege that lasted for more than nine months.From early May, the Union army hounded Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia as it tried to destroy the Confederates in the ...read more