Fifty years ago, the New York Times began publishing excerpts from a massive secret report called the "History of U.S. Decision-Making Process on Vietnam Policy." Those excerpts, which quickly became known as the "Pentagon Papers," provided shocking revelations of perennial government deceit and spurred an epic clash over the First Amendment. Unfortunately, many of the media outlets that will celebrate the Pentagon Papers anniversary have long since become lap dogs of perfidious politicians dragging America into new foreign conflicts.
The report that became the Pentagon Papers was a secret study begun in 1967 analyzing where the Vietnam War had gone awry. The 7,000-page tome showed that presidents and military leaders had been conning the American people on Southeast Asia ever since the Truman administration. Like many policy autopsies, the report was classified as secret and completely ignored by the White House and federal agencies that most needed to heed its lessons. New York Times editor Tom Wicker commented in 1971 that "the people who read these documents in the Times were the first to study them.