Top Secret: The Story of the Pentagon Papers

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — In 1966, United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara commissioned a study on the history of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Completed on Jan. 15, 1969, the study - which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers - contained more than two million words, including some that would prove politically embarrassing, about administration efforts to manipulate military information and the media. Only 15 copies of the document were circulated. In 1971, one was leaked to The New York Times by Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department employee, who had read them as a part of his top-secret work for the RAND Corporation.

 
Gregory Harrison
L.A. Theatre Works will perform Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers at 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, at the Walton Arts Center. The matinee is free to all University of Arkansas students, faculty and staff, thanks to the Hartman Hotz Lecture Series in Law and the Liberal Arts, which underwrote the afternoon performance. For tickets, contact any Fulbright College department or the dean’s office in any other college or school on campus.

After the performance, Hoyt Purvis, director of the international relations program in Fulbright College, will lead a discussion about the many issues raised by the play, such as the government's relationship to the media, the citizenry's right to information and the First Amendment, which are all critically explored against the canvas of the Vietnam War and the secretive Nixon White House.

On the evening of June 14, 1971, Attorney General John Mitchell warned the Times via phone and telegram against further publication of the papers and on Tuesday, June 15, the government sought and won a restraining order against the Times. Eager to get a piece of this remarkable story, The Washington Post, not covered by the initial injunction against the Times, was given a copy of the papers. The paper's editors felt that they had only one day to read the documents and make a decision about publishing the classified material.

In Top Secret, a riveting historical docudrama by Geoffrey Cowan and Leroy Aarons, L.A. Theatre Works brings these important days and the subsequent trial to life as the Washington Post struggles with the decision to publish these "classified" documents. The play, based on a wide range of sources, including interviews and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, follows the debate played out at the home of Ben Bradlee, the paper's famous editor, as his staff sorts through the documents and tries to decide if publishing the papers violates national security. The play includes their momentous decision and the legal wrangling that followed - leading up to the historic decision that reaffirmed the First Amendment.

            Cast members include John Getz, Gregory Harrison, Susan Sullivan and John Vickery.

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