Beacon Press and the Pentagon Papers

I thought readers of the Connector would be interested in this post by Beacon Press, the publishing arm of the Unitarian Universalist Association. —JL

Pentagon Papers

Beacon Press affirms and promotes a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

With the release of The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, the story of the Pentagon Papers has rekindled public conversation about the importance of a free press. The film’s release couldn’t have come at a more relevant time. Its historical dramatization of how an administration tried to stop the Washington Post from printing parts of the report detailing US involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967 speaks to what we see happening now: a president openly attacking news outlets and making accusations of “fake news.” It also highlights how necessary publishers are in “protecting an open, democratic society that is now under increasing threat,” as associate publisher Tom Hallock wrote in response to Donald Trump’s inauguration.

While the film focuses on the Washington Post, the story doesn’t end there. In October 1971, Beacon Press released the Senator Mike Gravel edition of The Pentagon Papers: The Defense Department History of United States Decisionmaking on Vietnam as a four-volume set after other publishers opted not to take on the task.

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, a department of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Ideologically, Beacon felt compelled to publish and agreed to take on the Pentagon Papers, despite financial and political risks.

The following selection from the 2007 monograph Beacon Press and the Pentagon Papers (pdf) explains how Beacon became the publisher of the papers


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