By: Elizabeth Hagele, Lindsay Geier and Waverly Hurd
September 27, 2016
Daniel Ellsberg was involved in an act against the United States government in 1971. As he released the Pentagon Papers to different media sources such as, The New York Times and other newspaper companies, he exposed the public to the 47 volumes of the top-secret Pentagon study the U.S. government conducted discussing decision-making during the Vietnam War. “People typically excluded from social, cultural, and political mainstream quickly saw the value of the mass newspaper” (Baran, 76). During this day of age, newspapers were the main medium source utilized to share information to the public. Newspapers were especially essential during the Gulf of Tonkin incident and continuing through the Vietnam War. The Gulf of Tonkin incident involved two separate confrontations involving North Vietnam and the United States in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The confrontations have been a very controversial issue over the years. The United States reported that North Vietnam was to blame for both incidents as they claimed the North Vietnamese ceased fire with torpedoes and machine guns on the USS Maddox destroyer. Although there were no U.S. causalities, the outcome of both supposed interactions, through manipulation and deception, resulted in the passage by Congress on the resolution of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, allowing President Lyndon B. Johnson assist South Vietnam as it was considered to be under the influence of communist aggression (Wikipedia).
Ellsberg was a pivotal individual during the Vietnam War in several aspects. As a RAND (research and development American nonprofit global policy think tank company) employee, he worked as a strategic analyst with a concentration in nuclear strategy and the command and control of nuclear weapons. His extensive knowledge on dealing with logistics both with RAND and in regards to his work prior at Harvard, granted him the reputation as being smart, technologic, and strategic. Ellsberg worked in the Pentagon in 1964 under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara as a special assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, John McNaughton.
Ellsberg, who began as clouded to the truth as the rest of the world was originally in support of the American boots on the ground. At 14:55 in The Most Dangerous Man in America by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, a lady singer speaks about the bombings in her country. This is one of the first pivotal moments when Ellsberg starts to see the truth to all the madness of war. Upon his return he witnesses his higher official, McNamara speak to the public and blatantly lie about how he is exceptionally happy with all of the military war efforts in Vietnam (19:40:00, Ehrlich and Goldsmith). Majority of the public, and even the higher officials were media literate at the time. Individuals had the ability to actively encode and decode media messages portrayed to them (Baran, 21). In 1967, Ellsberg contributed to a top-secret study in regards to the Vietnam War. The more he was exposed and learned about the inconsistencies and untruthful things the government was doing and saying, the more Ellsberg gravitated to the opposite end of the spectrum as he was against the Vietnam War and passionately wanted it to end.
During this stressful time, the newspaper was the main source of information, as it was the only medium that conveyed to what the public believed was the truth. The Pentagon Papers confirmed many people’s suspicions about the active role the United States Government had in the Vietnam War. The idea of freedom of press circulates the Frist Amendment to the United States Constitution, stating: “congress shall make no law, abridging or limiting the freedom of speech, or of the press” (Wikipedia).
Despite the freedom of press, Nixon’s administration obtained a federal court injunction forcing the New York Times to cease production of the papers after three articles, as they believed this knowledge should not have been released to the public and it was a matter of national security. Editors of the Times believed it was their duty to release information and “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in the government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people” (Wikipedia).
Nixon was undermined during his presidency, as Ellsberg went behind the government’s back and posted to what everyone saw as the truth. The government was outraged by Ellsberg’s betrayal to his country and his people. We still live in a society where the news has the power to control mankind. Senator Birch Bayh, at the time, believed that publishing the Pentagon Papers was a justified decision because, “The existence of these documents, and the fact they said one thing and the people were led to believe something else, is a reason we have a credibility gap today, the reason people don’t believe the government. This is the same thing that’s been going on over the last two-and-a-half years of this administration. There is a difference between what the President says and what the government actually does” (Wikipedia). The same issue still persists in today’s society, as major corporations own majority of the media social platforms, which are responsible for the true and false information that is leaked to America’s citizens. According to Baran, the issue of globalization orchestrates “the mass communication process that speaks to the issue of diversity and expression. [Baran questions,] will distant, anonymous, foreign corporations, each with vast holdings in a variety of non-media businesses, use their power to shape news and entertainment content to suit their own ends?” (Baran, 35) As we’ve mentioned previously, The Pentagon Papers targeted the United States people in hope to uncover the government’s lies and false accusations about Vietnam. Before the publications were released, the government shaped public opinion by using their power to withhold information from their country. In today’s society, we continue to relish on information disclosed on various media platforms, and question: Is this true or false?