With Donald Trump grabbing the public gaze one last time via the valedictory assault on the Capitol that he inspired, the media had scarce bandwidth to debate damning disclosures that came the next day about the ethics of one of the most consequential journalism coups of the past half-century: the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers, the top-secret government history of the United States' war in Vietnam.
The new disclosures were contained in a riveting account in the New York Times, which has long had an honored place in journalism's hall of heroes for publishing the Papers. Deservedly so: The Times defied fierce government pressure and won a landmark US Supreme Court ruling allowing it to make the Papers public and expose, in irrefutable detail, decades of official ineptitude and deceit in a war that killed more than 58,000 Americans and as many as 3 million Vietnamese. The Pentagon Papers didn't end the war, which went on for nearly four more years, but the leak did prompt the Nixon administration to create an illegal special ops unit that bungled the Watergate break-in and cost Richard Nixon his presidency. In a profound way, the Papers taught a generation that the government's fundamental claims about war and peace could not be believed, nor its intentions trusted.