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Beacon Press and the Pentagon Papers
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Forty years ago, Beacon Press published what was then the most complete version of the Pentagon Papers. Excerpts had been previously published in the Washington Post, New York Times, and many other papers and in book form by Bantam. It was Beacon, however, who published a full 4-volume set, earning them a call from then-President Nixon and a Supreme Court case. The papers have now been declassified (except for 11 words). The Beacon edition is out of print

Read a history of Beacon Press and the Pentagon Papers, a master's project by former Beacon staffer, Allison Trzop.

History of the Pentagon Papers:
In 1967, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara assembled a team of analysts to draft a "full history of U.S. decisionmaking on Vietnam from the early 1940s through March of 1968." Thirty-six men, many of whom remain anonymous, worked on the Study Task Force. One known member was Daniel Ellsberg. Disgusted by the disparity between the internal policymaking he saw and the lies being spoon-fed to the public, Ellsberg began smuggling the documents out of his safe at the Santa Monica-based think tank Rand Corporation in October of 1969.

Ellsberg first leaked copies of the papers to the New York Times, which began publishing excerpts in June of 1971. During what is popularly known as "The Day the Presses Stopped," the Times was enjoined to halt publication, as was The Washington Post. The two newspapers appealed to the Supreme Court in New York Times Co. vs. United States. They won, and established important legal precedent against the government imposing prior restraint.

Ellsberg demanded that Post journalist Ben Bagdikian deliver a copy of the papers to Senator Maurice "Mike" Gravel. The cloak-and-dagger exchange took place outside the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. Gravel intended to read from the papers during a filibuster of a bill that would extend the draft. Blocked from filibustering, Gravel instead read from the Pentagon Papers during a late night meeting of a subcommittee which he chaired—officially entering the papers in the public realm. Believing that, "Immediate disclosure of the contents of these papers will change the policy that supports the war," Gravel wanted to make the papers widely accessible to the public and sought a private publisher to distribute them.

Dozens of commercial and university publishing houses rejected Gravel's proposal, citing near-guaranteed political persecution and a bleak bottom line. Gravel, one of just two Unitarian Universalists in the Senate, then tried Beacon Press, a department of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Beacon's antiwar list in those days included Howard Zinn's Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, Jean-Paul Sartre's On Genocide and Arlo Tatum and Joseph S. Tuchinsky's Guide to the Draft. Ideologically, Beacon felt compelled to publish and agreed to take on the Pentagon Papers, despite financial and political risks.

As a result of publishing the papers, President Nixon personally attacked Beacon Press, the director of the press was subpoenaed to appear at Daniel Ellsberg's trial, and J. Edgar Hoover approved an FBI subpoena of the entire denomination's bank records. Beacon Press and Senator Gravel lost their Supreme Court case, leaving the press vulnerable to prosecution. During the fallout, Beacon received an outpouring of support from UU congregations across the country, and from organizations ranging from the Association of American Book Publishers to the American Library Association.

In June of 1972, the Watergate break-in drew the FBI's attention, effectively ending the government's campaign of intimidation against Beacon Press. The director of Beacon Press at the time, Gobin Stair, called the Pentagon Papers epic, "A watershed event in the denomination's history and a high point in Beacon's fulfilling its role as a public pulpit for proclaiming Unitarian Universalist principles." Robert West, then-president of the UUA, said, "There is no question in my mind that
Published: Beacon Press on


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