Pentagon Papers Leak (1971)
An important turning point in American history occurred when the Pentagon Papers were leaked in 1971, revealing a labyrinth of government secrecy and deception around the Vietnam War. To expose the full scope of U.S. engagement in Vietnam and the administration’s honest assessments of the war’s progress, a military analyst named Daniel Ellsberg, leaked a classified government report known as the Pentagon Papers to the press.
The Pentagon Papers exposed years of misinformation by contrasting the public pronouncements of government leaders with their private judgments. When the Nixon administration tried to stop the leak, it sparked a judicial struggle over the press’s right to publish. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the press’s right to publish classified information under the First Amendment is binding on all lower courts.
The Pentagon Papers Leak demonstrated the importance of a free press in holding governments to account and sparked debates over the legitimacy of state secrets. Transparency and government accountability discussions will be influenced for years to come by this event, which highlighted the conflict between national security concerns and the public’s right to know.