Free Speech Legacies: The Pentagon Papers Revisited

As the 46th anniversary approaches of the historic disclosure of the Pentagon Papers, Georgetown University announces a major symposium on the multiple legacies of the case will take place on its main campus on Thursday and Friday, February 16 and 17, 2017.

During the last years of President Lyndon Johnson's administration, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara launched the compilation of a classified review of the United States' involvement in Southeast Asia. He hoped it would remain secret for decades but eventually serve as a valued source for the study of American foreign policy in the Cold War era. But Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon employee who had become skeptical of the Vietnam War and related military operations, in part as a result of serving on the task force that wrote the study, felt it should become public much sooner. When his efforts to get it released through official channels failed, he made it available to The New York Times and, eventually, The Washington Post and other media.

The publication by the Times of what it called the Pentagon Papers on June 13, 1971, after three months of reviewing the documents, set off an epic struggle in the federal courts between the Nixon administration and the national media.  At the end of that month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that publication could proceed -- but only after allowing a de facto prior restraint to stand for two weeks, seemingly in violation of the guarantee of a free press in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Ellsberg was subsequently charged under the Espionage Act and with theft of government property, but his federal criminal trial in Los Angeles ended suddenly in 1973 upon discovery of misconduct by Nixon's "White House plumbers" and the judge himself.

The Georgetown symposium will include a public conversation with Daniel Ellsberg on Thursday evening, February 16, and three panels the following day on the legal legacy of the Pentagon Papers case; the shift it brought about in media relations with the government on national security matters; and the climate today, in the fast-paced Internet era, for publication of classified government information and the investigation and prosecution of those who disclose it.

Panelists will include Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post; Bob Woodward, the Post investigative journalist who was part of the two-person team that revealed the misconduct of the Nixon administration in the Watergate affair; Floyd Abrams, one of America's leading First Amendment lawyers; David Sanger, national security correspondent of The New York Times; and David Cole, national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. The program is organized and will be chaired by Sanford J. Ungar, president emeritus of Goucher College; author of the George Polk Award-winning book on the case, The Papers & The Papers: An Account of the Legal and Political Battle over the Pentagon Papers; and now a distinguished scholar in residence at Georgetown University and Lumina Foundation Fellow.

Friday, February 17, 2017 at 9:00am to 3:00pm

ICC Auditorium
37th and O St., N.W., Washington

Event Type

Special Events


Students, Faculty/Staff, Alumni, Public


Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown College, Journalism, President, Office of the




Open to the public and the press?


Event Contact Name

Sanford Ungar

Event Contact Email

Accommodations Contact Name

Bobby Williams

Accommodations Contact Email

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