The Nation: Ellsberg: The Battle Over the Right to Know

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Senator Barry Goldwater charged that "when publishers and editors decide on their own what security laws to obey, it puts them in the same category as those radicals who foment civil and criminal disobedience of laws they disagree with for moral reasons."

Other tart criticisms were offered by two of Johnson's White House intellectuals, the University of Texas' Walt Rostow and Brandeis' John Roche. Rostow said that the Pentagon researchers had exercised a "most egregious extraction out of context" of his "hundreds of memos on Southeast Asia." Newspapers, he contended, had further distorted the perspective. "If a student here at Texas were to turn in a term paper where the gap between data and conclusions was as wide as that between the Pentagon study and the newspaper stories, he would expect to be flunked." Roche scoffed at the study as "third-echelon chitchat," adding: "The Pentagon has this immense welfare program: aid to dependent colonels. They sit around over there and work up contingency plans."

Some of the flaws in the study were openly conceded by Leslie H. Gelb, chairman of the task force that managed it, in a court affidavit. He said that the people who worked on it were "uniformly bright and interested, although not always versed in the art of research. Of course, we all had our prejudices and axes to grind and these shine through clearly at times, but we tried, we think, to suppress or compensate for them. Writing history, especially where it blends into current events, is a treacherous exercise. We could not go into the minds of the decision makers. We often could not tell whether something happened because someone decided it, decided against it, or because it unfolded from the situation."

Yet the disclosure of the documents had some unexpected defenders. William F. Buckley's conservative National Review supported the Times, partly on the grounds that "overclassification of documents by governments amounts to approximately 3,000%—and no one is going to read all this mass anyway." Frederick Nolting, former ambassador to Saigon, argued that in some cases the truth of what happened is even worse than the Pentagon papers make it appear. "If anything, the published records tend to varnish over these crucial events or make them less offensive and damaging to those actually involved."

A Terribly Unpopular Thing

Replying to critics who claimed that the Times had only started the series to make money, Managing Editor Abe Rosenthal said that there was no increase in circulation at all until the Government took the Times to court (then on one day it jumped about 60,000). But the cost of producing the series, which may yet run through another eight installments, could reach $1 million. As for how the Times selected the material it has run so far, Foreign Editor James Greenfield said that the editors started with specific decisions, then worked back to the documents that had led to the decisions. "We threw out literally hundreds of documents —some that would have put your hair on end—because they didn't show how the decision was made." Despite qualms about the use of classified material, the majority of U.S. editors seems to feel that they would have acted like the Times if given the chance (see PRESS).

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