The New York Times first printed stories based on the Pentagon’s detailed secret history of the war in Vietnam on June 13, 1971. The Washington Post soon followed with its own Pentagon Papers story, setting a monumental court battle between the newspapers and the federal government. Unlike the Times, the Post had only a short time to absorb and report on the material, and the story of the Post’s dramatic decision to proceed is dramatized in a play currently running in New York called Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers, by Geoffrey Cowan and Leroy Aarons.
On March 16, the Columbia Journalism Review hosted a benefit performance of the play, which was followed by a panel discussion featuring some of the people most directly involved in the Pentagon Papers case. They are:
*Daniel Ellsberg, the ex-marine and former Pentagon official who leaked the papers in an effort to stop the war;
* Leslie Gelb, who was project director for the Pentagon Papers, and Ellsberg’s boss at the time, before going on to a career in journalism;
* James Goodale, former general counsel for the Times, who argued successfully for publication;
* Nicholas Lemann, the dean of Columbia’s graduate school of journalism, a former Washington Post reporter who knew most of the reporters and editors portrayed in the play.
CJR’s chairman, Victor Navasky, moderated the panel, which was taped by C-SPAN. We’re told it is scheduled to run on the network starting April 17.
We hope you enjoy it.