When whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers over a half-century ago, that act helped change American minds and policy regarding the Vietnam War.
“After The New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers on Sunday, June 13, 1971, the nation was stunned,” the New York Times reported on the 50th anniversary of the leak in 2021. “The response ranged from horror to anger to disbelief. There was furor over the betrayal of national secrets. Opponents of the war felt vindicated.”
When Ellsberg handed the Pentagon Papers over to journalists, President Richard Nixon’s White House pursued prior restraint injunctions to try and literally stop the press from printing this story. Yet 19 major papers defied the federal government and published the papers anyway.
In a free and democratic society, that is what the press does. It informs the people. Real journalism means challenging the government, not protecting or parroting them. But that kind of true journalism seems a lot rarer these days.
When alleged internal Pentagon notes on the Ukraine conflict were recently leaked, the U.S. government, true to form, discouraged news outlets from running the story.
John Kirby warns journalists not to report on leaked Pentagon documents.
"This is information that has no business in the public domain…It has no business…on the front pages of newspapers or on television." pic.twitter.com/625CxNIarI
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) April 10, 2023
These documents do bring some new information to light, including that Ukraine is not in a position of strength in its war with Russia and they outline just how involved the U.S. actually is in the operation of the conflict. On both counts, this contradicts the narrative many in establishment media have presented.
So, when the government said this week ‘please don’t spread this news to the people’ some major news outlets said ‘yes sir!’
Fox News’ national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin told viewers this leak “could be worse than Edward Snowden” and that Fox News “has agreed, along with other news organizations, not to publish the leaked highly classified documents.”
"Fox News has agreed, along with other news organizations, not to publish the leaked highly classified documents"
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) April 11, 2023
Don’t worry, Pentagon! Fox News has your back!
Griffin said the leaks contained “sensitive information.” Many said that about Ellsberg’s leak, too.
How interesting that mainstream media publications aren’t publishing leaks from the Pentagon because they can’t be sure if the leaks are real. They had no problem publishing intelligence leaks against Trump that turned out to be fake. And they’ve never apologized.
— Joel Pollak (@joelpollak) April 11, 2023
Over on MSNBC, they brought a retired CIA officer on air to say the government just needs to “catch the traitor” who leaked the information.
Instant reaction from MSNBC to the document leak — throwing it over to their in-house National Security Analyst, a "retired" CIA officer and corporate motivational speaker, who seethes: "We have to catch the traitor!" pic.twitter.com/u2q0ifhc0d
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) April 11, 2023
Some even wondered (how could you not?) if times had drastically changed regarding the media’s relationship with the government.
If the Pentagon Papers were released today the New York Times would be working with the government to ensure they never saw the light of day. The latest Ukraine War leak coverage by the media proves the media no longer holds the government accountable.https://t.co/1xqNPE61oe pic.twitter.com/jwdJEjVg5o
— @amuse (@amuse) April 8, 2023
Vietnam was not the same war as the current Ukraine conflict. As horrible as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been, it still does not touch the lives of Americans in the direct way Vietnam did.
However, and some of the leaks further reveal this, the U.S. is deeply involved in the Ukraine war, both financially and politically. At BASEDPolitics, we often describe it as a U.S. proxy war with Russia because that’s what it is.
What U.S. and Ukrainian officials have said about the war run contrary to what some of these leaks have revealed, in the same way the Pentagon Papers undermined the federal government’s narrative on Vietnam 50 years ago.
But major news outlets back then defied the government and published the leaks. Now Fox News and others not only refuse to publish these revelations, their coverage often sounds like they’re running cover for the U.S. government more than servicing their viewers.
Today, compared to the early 1970s, we live in the age of the internet and social media, where you can find most of these leaks fairly easily. But that’s not the point.
What do major media institutions see their role as in 2023? Because for many of them, it doesn’t seem remotely close to how the New York Times and other papers saw their role in 1971.
An ethical and robust free press is not supposed to sound like the White House’s comms department. There is a reason independent journalism is rising, and it’s due in large part to the establishment media no longer even understanding what journalism is.