The Most Dangerous Man in America (2009)
Baran, Stanley J. Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture
The Vietnam War occurred during the administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon in the years of 1955-1975. The Watergate Scandal was the time when tape recordings of President Nixon having conversations about killing and abuse in the Vietnam War, he was caught and the contents of these tapes discovered. It was related to The Pentagon Papers because it contributed to and continued to the cycle of corruption within the government that continued through the years during these four presidencies.
The Gulf of Tonkin is a gulf in North Vietnam, that supposedly had an attack on the USS Maddox by Vietnamese torpedoes in 1964. The Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was in charge of the operation and it was Daniel Ellsberg’s first day on the job working in the White House. Ellsberg worked for McNamara, who worked under the JFK and Johnson administration. Ellsberg was told by McNamara to find examples of monstrosities that supported public opinion of America’s efforts in Vietnam.
The Pentagon Papers were a report done on the birth and progression of the Vietnam War. Essentially, it displayed that years of presidents and the White House lied to the American people in order to maintain an image of trust and purpose for the war, continuing the funding and support of the nation. The Pentagon Papers were ordered by Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense at the time.
The pivotal moments that changed Ellsberg’s position towards war was when he began hearing what the people were saying during the resistance rallies, that “the best thing our men can do is go to jail.” This struck him, because it was true, people were willing to go to jail because it meant they weren’t supporting a war that they didn’t believe in.
When he says that “an authority can fall asleep at the wheel” he means that people in power can sometimes forget or lose sight of the mission or goal at hand. Because of this, they can become distracted and cause discourse through their pursuit. It applied to the role that the press is supposed to play in a free and democratic society because they contribute to the cycle of lies and deceit that these politician attempt to convey to the public. They even use the press to distract from what they’re doing by creating false stories to keep them off their case.
When Ellsberg decided to go to the press, it was no the decision of whether or not big Newspaper companies would also take the risk to put their name out with assisting the leak of this information. The New York Times believed that going ahead with the release was a public service but were told by their law firm to go against the publication, for they were in violation of the espionage act. The editors however understood that if it got out that the newspaper had the information and did not publish it then they would be considered a disgrace.
The publication of the papers erupted and the Nixon administration deemed it a devastating security breach and got an injunction against The New York Times. Nixon made Ellsberg seem like a traitor, saying that what he did gave aid to the enemy and that his decision placed Ellsberg in front of both the president and the entire government. However, while the release did place the government in what was called “the dark times” Nixon was reelected with a sweeping majority, it was not until Ellsberg and Russo faced a trail that he resigned before facing impeachment.
Ellsberg was facing a penalty of 115 years in prison for his decision, what ultimately assisted him and Russo from going to jail was the additional government corruption that Nixon tainted their trail with. It was rather a case about unnecessary and unfair government fraud within the case that made the Supreme Court drop it than understanding it as a problem of freedom of expression.
The decision that Ellsberg faced could have cost him his life and those of the ones he loves. Ellsberg along with Snowden, Assange, and Manning all believed that people have the right for information, have the right to understand what is really going on compared to what the government chooses to share or hide from the public. They challenged and went against the higher institutions to allow people to change how they view the way the world works, to question and rethink the uses of power that those in high government positions have. Leaking information to the media proves a lasting legacy of the newspaper that has rung true since the times of Ben Franklin, “in proving that a newspaper with popular support could indeed challenge authority”. (74). These people considered heroes to many and traitors to some made a decision to “give priority to conscious over career”. What has made them one or the other is based off of the popular opinion and media representation created by the opinions of their actions.