3 English H
February 27, 2012
The Pentagon Papers Case
In the past, there has always been conflict between the free press and the government. This conflict was very evident in the Pentagon Papers case, also known as New York Times Co. v. United States. Historically, the Supreme Court has disagreed on the limitations that can be placed on the First Amendment. The Supreme Court faced these issues in the case of The New York Times. The newspaper obtained a copy of a Defense Department report that explained government deception in the Vietnam War. The Pentagon Papers emerged when the American people disagreed on the United States involvement in the war. Under the First Amendment, The New York Times argued for the right to publicize the Pentagon Papers. In 1971, a Supreme Court ruling allowed The New York Times and The Washington Post to publish classified Pentagon Papers without the risk of government censure. In the mid-1960s, the public and a few government officials became critical of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. In 1967, Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense, demanded evaluation of the involvement of the United States in the war. A team of thirty-six people took more than a year to write a seven thousand-page report called “History of U.S. Decision-Making Process on Vietnam Policy” (Cengage, par.12). This top-secret report was also Albo 2
known as the Pentagon Papers. Daniel Ellsberg, a former Marine Corps Company Commander and economist with the Defense Department, helped prepare the report. At first he was in agreement with America’s involvement in Vietnam. After a two-year volunteer tour of Vietnam, and witnessing innocent civilians getting killed, Ellsberg changed his views. He decided that the United States needed to be informed that continuing the war would lead to excessive casualties, and the outcome would most likely not be victorious. In 1969, Ellsberg copied sections of the report and released them to the press. He gave the report to The New York Times in March 1971. On June 13, 1971, The New York Times printed the first article about the Pentagon Papers, and The Washington Post printed articles on June 18th. The release of the papers was politically embarrassing to the Nixon Administration. John Mitchell, Nixon’s attorney general, promptly sent a telegram to The New York Times to stop all publications. The New York Times refused, and the government sued them. The government did not want anyone to be informed of the Pentagon Papers because they contained information that could jeopardize National Security. Also, they did not want the public to be aware of the United State’s participation in Vietnam. The government filed lawsuits to stop The New York Times and The Washington Post from printing the reports. The courts stopped the newspapers until the government could declare its case. The government believed that the Constitution provided the power to protect National Security by stopping the newspapers from printing the report. The newspapers argued that the First Admendment was being violated. The Pentagon Papers case addressed the issue of prior restraint on the press under the First Albo 3
Amendment. “A prior restraint is the imposition of a restraint on the publication of information before the information is published” (Farlex, par.2). On June 15, 1971, the trial started in Manhattan in a federal courthouse. President Nixon appointed Judge Gurfein to the district court. The administration acquired a restraining order on the publication the same day. On June 18, the judge denied a standing order but blocked further publication. It was the first time in the history of our nation that a court prevented the publication of an article on national security. The New York Times agreed on the order. In an earlier case, the Supreme Court made a limited exception on the topic of prior restraint. In the case of Near v. Minnesota from 1931, Chief Justice Hughes...