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January 11: Gerald Gold and the Pentagon Papers

Lawrence Bush
January 11, 2017
New York Times editor Gerald Gold, who holed up for ten weeks with the Pentagon Papers in order to extract the most newsworthy information from 7,000 pages of top-secret documents that were spilled to the newspaper’s reporter Neil Sheehan by Daniel Ellsberg, a defense analyst, was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1927. Gold, a Navy veteran of World War II, “arranged for a suite at the New York Hilton Hotel on Avenue of the Americas, where he, Mr. Sheehan and Allan M. Siegal, another assistant foreign editor, began the project,” writes Douglas Martin in the Times obituary that marked Gold’s death at 85 in 2012. “In the end, their makeshift office grew to nine rooms. There were no computers and not enough photocopiers — only mountains of paper.” The Pentagon Papers revealed that President Lyndon B. Johnson and his administration had systematically lied to the American public about the progress of the war in Vietnam, and that the U.S. had secretly bombed both Cambodia and Laos. The legal case that permitted the Times to publish articles about the documents was “hailed as a huge victory for press freedom and prompted new skepticism about government,” Martin continues. “But before any of that, somebody had to do hours of laborious, exacting work preparing articles about, and excerpts from, the papers for publication. Mr. Gold . . . shouldered much of the burden.” “In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.” --Justice Hugo Black

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.