1971 June 15

Injunction Stops Publication of Pentagon Papers; Landmark Court Case Ahead


A federal judge on this day granted an injunction sought by President Richard Nixon’s administration to stop further publication of articles based on the Pentagon Papers by The New York Times. The Times created a sensation, on June 13, 1971, by publishing the first story based on the Papers, which exposed the secret history of American involvement in Vietnam. The Times challenged the injunction, and the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision on freedom of the press, New York Times Co. v. United States, on June 30, 1971, which reversed the injunction against the Times and the Washington Post (which began publishing stories based on the Papers after the Times was enjoined).

The Times obtained the Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg who, along with Anthony Russo, stole a copy from the Rand Corporation where they both worked. Ellsberg and Russo were indicted and tried by the federal government for stealing the papers, but the  case was dismissed on May 11, 1973 when it was revealed that the government had committed misconduct against Ellsberg (see September 9, 1971).

In seeking the injunction, the Justice Department claimed that further publication would damage national security, but it conceded that it had not read all of the Pentagon Papers, which consisted of 3,000 pages of text and another 4,000 pages of documents. Subsequent analysis of the entire Papers found no material that would have damaged national security (see Inside the Pentagon Papers, below). In releasing the Papers, Daniel Ellsberg purposely did not release two volumes that dealt with the ongoing Vietnam War peace negotiations, because they might have affected the negotiations.

Learn More – Transcripts and Audio Recordings of White House Conversations on How to Respond to the Pentagon Papershttp://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB48/nixon.html

Read the Pentagon Papers: http://www.archives.gov/research/pentagon-papers/

Learn more: John Prados and Margaret Pratt Porter, Inside the Pentagon Papers (2004)

Learn more about the landmark 1931 case on prior restraint of the press: Fred W. Friendly, Minnesota Rag (1981)

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