Amid Leaks, Recalling Major Battle Over Press Freedom in Nixon Era

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President Barack Obama may have publicly extolled the virtues of a free press, but his government pressed criminal charges against more people for news leaks than all previous administrations combined. Rhetorically, anyway, Mr. Trump has raised the temperature many more degrees by declaring the news media to be nothing less than the enemy of the people, a phrase more familiar coming from the likes of Stalin and other despots.

Retro Report’s focus is an epic battle that started on June 13, 1971, when The Times published a secret government history of the Vietnam War that it labeled “Vietnam Archive.” Soon enough, people began referring to it as the Pentagon Papers. The name stuck. Publication of this highly classified material, which had been given to the newspaper by a military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg, became a defining moment in government-press relations.

Across 7,000 pages, the papers detailed government deceit and evasion that had led the United States to stumble into a war that turned highly unpopular. No operational details relevant to the continuing war in 1971 were revealed.

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