Editorial: Pentagon Documents and Praise for Whistleblowers

5f17bd50a561b image 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1My Op-Ed in praise of government whistleblowers ran in today’s Moscow-Pullman Daily News

I’m a long-time fan of government whistleblowers. Their actions have helped shine light on government wrongdoing, abuse of power, and misconduct.

In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg’s leaked “Pentagon Papers” exposed how the US government systematically misled the American public about the scale, objectives, and progress of the Vietnam War. In reality, the US secretly escalated the war, including unauthorized bombings in Cambodia and Laos, without the knowledge or consent of Congress. And although the government knew the war was futile, they continued to send our men to be killed.

The publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times and the Washington Post ignited a firestorm of controversy and significantly eroded public trust in the government. It also led to a landmark Supreme Court decision in favor of press freedom.

The Nixon administration sought to prevent the media from publishing the Pentagon Papers, citing national security concerns and the fear that the release of classified documents would endanger US troops and harm the nation’s diplomatic position. The leading newspapers, however, asserted their First Amendment right to freedom of the press, arguing that the public had a right to know the truth about their government’s conduct during the war. New York Times Co. v. United States was expedited to the SCOTUS.

In a 6-3 decision, the justices ruled in favor of the New York Times and the Washington Post. The Court’s majority opinion emphasized the importance of a free press in a democratic society, that the Fourth Estate has a crucial role in holding the government accountable, and that attempts to suppress information should be strictly scrutinized. The ruling remains a precedent involving press freedom and national security.

As a result, the release of the Pentagon Papers helped fuel anti-war sentiment and protests across the United States, putting pressure on the government to reevaluate the nation’s involvement in Vietnam. The shift in public opinion and increased scrutiny of government decisions played a critical role in the ultimate withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam.

The final involvement in that unpopular and undeclared war took place under the Nixon administration. The New York Times and Washington Post were committed to accurately informing the public of the government’s actions and decisions concerning the war, and the resulting SCOTUS decision set a significant precedent. That was 1971.

Earlier this month, Jack Teixeira leaked what is now called the “2023 Pentagon Documents,” revealing that the US government is actively deceiving the public concerning the war with nuclear-armed Russia. The leaked information acknowledges the presence of US troops and CIA personnel in Ukraine and that Zelensky plans to use US weapons to launch strikes deep into Russia. Also, Ukrainian casualties are much higher and Russian casualties much lower than publicly announced, echoing the 1970’s lies about the Vietcong.

Predictably, we see very different coverage by the NY Times and Washington Post than in 1971. Today, they jump to demonize Teixeira himself rather than explore the much more serious national issues brought to light.

At the Pentagon briefing, the entire focus of the legacy media, the CIA, and the Pentagon itself was on the whistleblower, while the NY Times and Washington Post actually assisted the FBI in tracking Teixeira down. Now media outlets are demanding punishment and urging the government to enforce stricter secrecy measures. What has changed since 1971 that the media would now cover up the fact that the public is being lied to about how the war is going?

This is just another example of the mainstream media’s shift away from their role as the Fourth Estate, a crucial role in a democratic society for serving as a watchdog and check-and-balance on the power of government institutions. In today’s world the NY Times and Washington Post would have condemned Ellsberg and emphasized those bits of the Pentagon Papers which reflected badly on the Vietcong.

The legacy media today are more focused on protecting Democrat reputations than promoting transparency between citizens and authorities. The era of mainstream media delivering hard-won information is over, replaced by propaganda that ensures our reliance on government control while directing fear towards truth-exposers. This media consumption, which leads to fearing neighbors and seeking government protection, signifies a loss in the fight for free speech.