CHICAGO — Two programs at the 2011 ALA Annual Conference will focus attendees’ attention on current events by highlighting an important moment in the nation’s history—Daniel Ellsberg and the release of the Pentagon Papers. In the current context of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers provide an important study in the balance between transparency of information and national security.
The Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association and the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee will present “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers,” the full-length 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary, from 6 - 7:30 p.m. on Saturday June 25 in the Morial Convention Center, Auditorium C. Admission is free to conference attendees. A discussion of the film with Ellsberg will follow immediately in the Morial Convention Center, Auditorium A.
From 8 - 9:15 a.m. on Sunday, June 26, Ellsberg will join the ALA Speaker Series in the Morial Convention Center Auditorium B to talk about his experiences, his thoughts on secrecy and government information and his current efforts.
Ellseberg’s appearance coincides with the 40th anniversary of the leaking of the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times and on the heels of the U.S. Government’s official release of the secret government study of the Vietnam War.
In the 1960s Daniel Ellsberg worked in the Pentagon with Secretary of State Robert McNamara before serving for a short time in Vietnam. Returning to the U.S., he worked for the RAND Corporation, a conservative think tank, assembling and contributing to a series of papers describing the U.S. strategy and conduct in Vietnam.
In 1969, Ellsberg secretly photocopied classified documents and began to leak the papers to trusted reporters and Congressmen. According to The New York Times, the documents, to become known as the Pentagon Papers, "demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance."
On Sunday June 13, 1971, The New York Times published the first of nine excerpts and commentaries on the Pentagon Papers. The Nixon Administration acted quickly, issuing a court order which temporarily prevented the Times from publishing its articles. In one of its most famous and influential decisions, the Supreme Court ruled on June 30, 1971 that the government had failed to prove that a prior restraint for publishing the Pentagon Papers was legal. As Justice Hugo Black stated “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 fever and foreign shot and shell.” The case serves as the foundation for much of ALA’s principle of the freedom to read, the policies in the Intellectual Freedom Manual, and the work of many professionals to promote unrestricted government information access.
The two programs present a unique opportunity to highlight the importance of open government information and intellectual freedom. The programs are made possible by The Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association, the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, the Video Round Table of the American Library Association, and ALA President Roberta Stevens. For more information about these and other programs at the 2011 ALA Annual Conference, please visit http://www.alaannual.org/.