The Pentagon Papers are a 7,000-page, top-secret United States Department of Defense history of the
United States involvement in the Vietnam War from 1945 to 1971. These basically detailed executive orders given by Nixon that
ordered soldiers to go back to Vietnam, when he had promised the people that he would bring the soldiers home and
gradually end the war.
The Pentagon Papers were leaked in 1971 by Department of Defense worker Daniel Ellsberg. Excerpts were
published as a series of articles in The New York Times beginning June 13. On June 29, U.S. Senator Mike Gravel of
Alaska entered 4,100 pages of the Papers into the record of his subcommittee on Buildings and Grounds. These portions of the
Papers were subsequently published by Beacon Press.
The document increased belief in the credibility gap, hurting the war effort. This helped to confirm public
suspicion that there was a significant "gap" between the administration's declarations of controlled military and political
resolution, and the reality.
When the Times began publishing the series, President Nixon was incensed. The next day, Attorney
General John Mitchell talked Nixon into getting a federal court injunction to cease publication of the documents. This was
the first time in U.S. history that any executive successfully obtained a judicial prior restraint against publication for
national security reasons.
On June 18th, the Washington Post began publishing the Papers. That day the Post received
a call from the Assistant Attorney General, William Rehnquist, asking them to stop publishing the documents. When the Post
refused, the Justice Department sought another injunction. That court refused, and the government appealed. The Times
also appealed the injunction that was issued, and on June 26 the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to take both cases,
merging them into the case New York Times Co. v. U.S. The Supreme Court held in a 6-3 decision that the injunctions were unconstitutional
prior restraints and that the government had not met its burden of proof. The justices wrote nine separate opinions, disagreeing
on significant substantive issues. While it was a victory for the First Amendment, many felt it was a lukewarm victory at
best, offering little protection for future publishers when claims of national security are at stake.