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Inside the Pentagon Papers

Edited by John Prados and Margaret Pratt Porter

New in Paperback: September 2005
xii, 248 pages, 6-1⁄8 x 9-1⁄4
Modern War Studies
Paper ISBN 978-0-7006-1423-3, $17.95 (t)

book cover imageInside the Pentagon Papers addresses legal and moral issues that resonate today as debates continue over government secrecy and democracy’s requisite demand for truthfully informed citizens. In the process, it also shows how a closer study of this signal event can illuminate questions of government responsibility in any era.

When Daniel Ellsberg leaked a secret government study about the Vietnam War to the press in 1971, he set off a chain of events that culminated in one of the most important First Amendment decisions in American legal history. That affair is now part of history, but the story behind the case has much to tell us about government secrecy and the public’s right to know.

Commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, “the Pentagon Papers” were assembled by a team of analysts who investigated every aspect of the war. Ellsberg, a member of the team, was horrified by the government’s public lies about the war—discrepancies with reality that were revealed by the report’s secret findings. His leak of the report to the New York Times and Washington Post triggered the Nixon administration’s heavy-handed attempt to halt publication of their stories, which in turn led to the Supreme Court’s ruling that Nixon’s actions violated the Constitution’s free speech guarantees.

Inside the Pentagon Papers reexamines what happened, why it mattered, and why it still has relevance today. Focusing on the “back story” of the Pentagon Papers and the resulting court cases, it draws upon a wealth of oral history and previously classified documents to show the consequences of leak and litigation both for the Vietnam War and for American history.

Included here for the first time are transcripts of previously secret White House telephone tapes revealing the Nixon administration’s repressive strategies, as well as the government’s formal charges against the newspapers presented by Solicitor General Erwin Griswold to the Supreme Court. Coeditor John Prados’s point-by-point analysis of these charges demonstrates just how weak the government’s case was—and how they reflected Nixon’s paranoia more than legitimate national security issues.

“A wonderful and significant story. . . . The issues raised by the Pentagon Papers—presidential power, the role of the courts and the press, government secrecy—are all still with us. And this book throws fresh and important light on those issues.”—Anthony Lewis in the New York Review of Books

“Highlights the burden of a free press that enriches a nation that cherishes freedom but yearns for national security. . . . Ideal for students in media ethics and media law classes.”—American Journalism

“Exciting as history and compelling as law, Inside the Pentagon Papers gives us the secret documents from this famous case—and shows how thin the government’s legal and factual arguments actually were.”--Anthony Lewis, author of Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment

“This is a signal event, for the revelation of the Pentagon Papers brought forth Nixon’s Plumbers—and the rest, as we know, is history.”--Stanley I. Kutler, author of The Wars of Watergate

“So many dazzling new perspectives on events we thought we knew and a cautionary tale for here and now.”--Frank Snepp, author of Decent Interval and Irreparable Harm

“The most complete, incisive and persuasive study of those documents yet published.”--Floyd Abrams, co-counsel to the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case

JOHN PRADOS is the author of numerous books, including Hoodwinked: The Documents That Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War. He is currently director of a project on declassified Vietnam War documents at the National Security Archive at George Washington University. MARGARET PRATT PORTER is director of communications and publications for Vietnam Veterans of America and editor of The VVA Veteran.

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