That’s right, because the Pentagon lawsuit caused the free press to publish secrets in ways unimaginable in 1971. Covering the war with drones and secret bases America in Africa, about cyber defense and offensive operations, about the status of near-secret negotiations with Iran or the Taliban, has now become the norm.
Amid such a wave of national security reports – everything from WikiLeaks disclosures to covert efforts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program – government officials and major news organizations did not clearly understand.
The government reluctantly acknowledges that, under current case law, the final decision on publication rests with editors and publishers, not government officials. The government can hunt down leakers, but the press is mostly left alone – except when courts try to force them to disclose their sources, or government officials obtain secret court orders to collect that information surreptitiously.
That unspoken bargain, the actual outcome of the Pentagon Papers affair, has fundamentally changed the nature of journalism on national security. It confirmed the possibility that secret disclosure of US government operations would not be acceptable in other democracies, from Britain to Israel to Australia. And in newsrooms across the United States, it leveraged journalists to force government officials to explain, sometimes in top secret, their objections to the publication of an article, in detail. government action disclosure or a classified archive.
There is a good reason to press for those answers. Government officials know that information is overclassed — a problem that has worsened significantly since Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a book about it two decades ago — and so they must make the case to reporters and editors why certain events would actually put lives or operations in jeopardy. They often have trouble making that case. But those conversations also force us as journalists to scrutinize our own reasoning and standards about what to publish — and to think hard about the human consequences of those decisions. .
As a result, the day-to-day details of national security decision-making – a messy mixture of secrecy, secrecy and publicity – now become the daily background noise of news gathering. In an internet-connected world, where everything is kept secret for long periods of time, all is becoming public with a speed and scale that Supreme Court justices, reporters and editors can afford. and the US government could not have imagined 50 years ago.
By today’s standards, no one can blink when publishing Pentagon documents. At the time of press coverage, the work of the Vietnam Research Task Force, which produced the articles, was at least two years old.