David Rudenstine is the Dr. Herman George and Kate Kaiser Professor of Constitutional Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.
With the benefit of hindsight it seems a storm in a teacup now. In 1971, when the Vietnam War still had three years to run, the New York Times, closely followed by the Washington Post, published extracts from a secret history of American involvement in Indochina that would become known as the Pentagon Papers. Though all the revelations concerned the Johnson administration, the Nixon government decided to issue an order preventing the publication of more revelations on the grounds that they would damage national security. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court threw the case out, the papers continued to publish extracts, and no apparent harm was ever done to national security. At the time, however, it was a most important issue. No American government had ever before tried to use national security to muzzle the press, so the case established case law on issues of press freedom, especially in time of war. Moreover, it played to Nixon's sensibility that he was surrounded by enemies, and thus was a vital precursor to the Watergate affair that would shortly bring his government down. In this very readable history, Rudenstine, Professor of Constitutional Law at Yeshiva University, considers every aspect of the case, from the time the papers were written at the instigation of the then Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, through their leaking by Daniel Ellsberg, to their final echoes in the Watergate affair, and finds the issue was not so clear cut as it appeared at the time. Though, in the end, he applauds the court's decision to throw out Nixon's suit, he uses newly discovered documents to show that Nixon's case was far more justifiable than many of Nixon's critics are prepared to admit even now. He also shows how the Pentagon Papers affair was more intimately connected to Watergate than many people have imagined. (Kirkus UK)