Reveal: The Pentagon Papers: Secrets, lies and leaks

In this episode of Reveal, we’re using the full hour to take a deep look at the leaking and publication of the Pentagon Papers. At the center of the episode are two guys who have a knack for being in the room when history gets made: Robert J. Rosenthal and Daniel Ellsberg.

For Rosenthal, the Pentagon Papers came calling when he was at the beginning of his journalism career.

Image: Before Edward Snowden showed us that the National Security Agency could spy on all of us, before Chelsea Manning exposed hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables, there was Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Credit: Anna Vignet for Reveal.

When Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971, he was turning his back on a long career close to power, immersed in government secrets. His early career as a nuclear war strategist made him fear that a small conflict could erupt into a nuclear holocaust.

In our second segment, when the Vietnam War flared, Ellsberg worried his worst fears would be realized. He wonders if leaking top-secret material he’s seeing at work could help stop the war. Soon, he was secretly copying the 7,000-page history that would come to be known as the Pentagon Papers and showing them to anyone he thought could help.

In our last segment, President Richard Nixon wakes up to the biggest leak in American history. His first reaction is a little surprising: The Pentagon Papers might make trouble for the Democrats – this instinct starts a chain reaction that helps bring down his presidency.



NOTE: Rosenthal is the executive director at The Center for Investigative Reporting, which produces Reveal along with PRX.

For more stories, check out Reveal’s website and subscribe to the podcast.




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