I read Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles by James Goodale for several reasons. First there was a radio interview with the author on Radio Times and I listened to the podcast. It I found it very interesting and wanted to buy the book as soon as I could.
Second, I was in college at the time of the Pentagon Papers battles and it was interesting to re-visit this history and learn more about it. And third, this battle over the publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times and other papers during the Vietnam War is very relevant to the freedom of the press disputes today.
James Goodale was the New York Times general counsel at a time when the Pentagon Papers were leaked to the NY Times. The Pentagon Papers was classified Top Secret, although that classification now seems excessive. After internal discussions at the Times, the paper battled Richard Nixon’s Department of Justice for the right to publish and won.
Why was this so important? The Pentagon Papers were a history of our involvement in Vietnam prepared for the government and classified ‘Top Secret’. Thousands of young men were being killed in the Vietnam War and the country was being torn apart with political protests, bombings, etc.
The Pentagon Papers showed that the case the government made for going to war was a pack of lies. These papers were leaked (stolen secrets) and the New York Times wanted to publish and, of course, the Nixon administration wanted to keep the secrets away from the public. It was a great story and is told well in this book.
So this is an insider’s story of what may have been the most important case on First Amendment and freedom of the press. I was expecting the book to be dry and legalistic in parts or even much of the story. I was surprised and pleased and it was not. Although this is a true story, it reads more like a legal thriller and kept me reading.
Most of the book discusses The Pentagon Papers case and other cases related to Richard Nixon’s war on the free press. The last few chapters move us into the present. And there is an extensive set of references. The G.W. Bush and Obama administrations have not been good for ‘freedom of the press‘ issues.
So who would I recommend read this? First, there are journalists and lawyers. Although I must repeat again the book is not at all bogged down by any technical aspects of the law or journalism that would detract from the experience of the general reader. Then anyone with an interest in the time period or freedom of the press issues. I find this last particularly important today since the balance of security, surveillance, privacy, and press freedom is so essential to our society,
Looking at the Amazon page, there are both Kindle and Paperback Editions and the Kindle version is much less than the paperback. I went with the Kindle edition since it was much cheaper and delivery was almost immediate.