The Pentagon Papers- Courtesy of Newseum

When I first heard about the Pentagon Papers, I was taking a Media Law & Ethics class. The class dealt with the First Amendment which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (US Constitution Bill of Rights).

During the late 60s and early 70s when much of the United States was protesting being involved in the Vietnam War, President Nixon was telling the country his plan to get out of Vietnam. However, when Daniel Ellsberg discovered the Pentagon Papers, officially called the Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, he believed the Nixon administration was not to be trusted and the public must know the truth (Pentagon Papers). In 1971, Ellsberg released the confidential government documents to the New York Times who published the papers on the front page. The President ordered for a restraining order to be issued to stop further publications of the New York Times. After a judge agreed, Ellsberg gave the papers to the Washington Post. The same thing happened again. The most read newspapers in the country went to court saying the restraining orders went against their First Amendment rights of freedom from government abridging the press. The supreme court overturned the ruling and ruled 6:3 in favor of the press (The Pentagon Papers).

This was the first time in history that anyone, including the government, tried to halt the printing of the press. The case about the Pentagon Papers shows how important freedom of the press is. Daniel Ellsberg felt that the public needed to know what was going on regardless of the fact the papers were classified. This case forever changed the press.

Video courtesy of Newseum.

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