A journalist who covered Nixon’s fall 45 years ago explains why the current challenge to America may be more severe—and the democratic system less capable of handling it.
the worst version of what Nixon and his allies were attempting to do—namely, to find incriminating or embarrassing information about political adversaries ranging from Democratic Party Chairman Lawrence O’Brien to Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg—was not as bad as what came afterward.
.. attacks by an authoritarian foreign government on the fundamentals of American democracy, by interfering with an election
.. as part of a larger strategy that included parallel interference in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and elsewhere.
.. meant to destroy trust in democracy
.. But even in his stonewalling, Nixon paid lip service to the concepts of due process and check and balances.
.. Stennis compromise
.. he wanted to act as if he was doing so while sticking to some recognizable rules... Nothing Donald Trump has done, on the campaign trail or in office, has expressed awareness of, or respect for, established rules.
Journalist, author, and podcaster Malcolm Gladwell joins Tyler for a conversation on Joyce Gladwell, Caribbean identity, satire as a weapon, Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden, Harvard’s under-theorized endowment, why early childhood intervention is overrated, long-distance running, and Malcolm’s happy risk-averse career going from one “fur-lined rat hole to the next.”
.. In my reading of the Pentagon Papers Case, here’s what really struck and astonished me, and I’d like your view on how it’s changed. When the Pentagon Papers became public in, I think, 1971, first they were incredibly boring, but when you did read them or read excerpts, one thing that startled so many people is, it came out that there were accords dating back to 1954 where, it turned out, America had broken the accords and not North Vietnam. And this shocked people and caused them to reassess their whole sense of the Vietnam War. And that’s 1954, which was then, from 1971, a long time ago.
So there was a sense of history embedded in how people understood that episode that seems to me entirely lacking today. To get someone to care that much about something done under other administrations 17 years earlier seems virtually impossible. And what is it about America that’s changed so that history now doesn’t matter the way it did then?
.. So, step back — what is the Pentagon Papers? It is Robert McNamara saying, in whatever, ’69 or ’68, whatever, “What we really need is to get the smartest historians in a room to write me a 10-volume set on historical analysis going back 20 years on this conflict we’re involved in.” So, right from the start, we’re in a rarefied academic realm. He gathers a bunch of PhDs who slave away on this thing and produce this massive, turgid . . .
.. he’s trying to get everyone to read it. And by reading it, he means, “I need you to go away for however many months it’ll take you and work your way through all 10 volumes.”
There’s these hilarious conversations he has with [Henry] Kissinger where Kissinger just wants a summary. It’s like, “No, you can’t do a summary. You gotta read the whole thing. You gotta get a couple of thousand pages in before it makes any sense.” There’s no contemporary . . . it’s like history . . . 2017 and 1971 viewed through the lens of the Pentagon Papers controversy — they belong on different planets. And when the New York Times gets the copies — remember, it takes them a year or whatever to photocopy all of it because it’s just enormous and the copiers are really slow.
.. I think of the history of American life over the last 150 years as just one period of prolonged backlash after another.
You have a backlash to the Civil War that basically lasts 75 years. Then you have the Brown decision. Then you have backlash to the Brown decision that lasts 25 years. Then you have a little moment for feminism in the ’70s and you have a backlash that lasts until . . . might still be going on. There’s a gay rights backlash, which dwarfs the little moment of gay rights — pops its head into the public discourse, and the backlash goes on for years and chases every Democrat out of Congress and distorts two election cycles. I feel like we’re in the middle of another one of these.
In this episode of Reveal, we’re using the full hour to take a deep look at the leaking and publication of the Pentagon Papers. At the center of the episode are two guys who have a knack for being in the room when history gets made: Robert J. Rosenthal and Daniel Ellsberg.
.. When Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971, he was turning his back on a long career close to power, immersed in government secrets. His early career as a nuclear war strategist made him fear that a small conflict could erupt into a nuclear holocaust.