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University of Iowa News Release


Jan. 14, 2008

Ellsberg participates in 'Top Secret' Pentagon Papers events at the UI

Government secrecy is a burning issue today as it was during the Vietnam War, and once again the country is vigorously debating whether national security can trump the public's right to know what the government is doing. In the midst of that debate, the University of Iowa will present a play, lecture and discussions Jan. 25-30 on the occasion of a visit by Daniel Ellsberg, a central figure in the Pentagon Papers controversy that pitted the New York Times and the Washington Post against the Nixon administration.

Ellsberg will present the UI Lecture Committee's Distinguished Lecture at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28, in Hancher Auditorium. The lecture is free and open to the public; tickets are not required but audience members will be seated on a first come, first served basis.

At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, L.A. Theatre Works will perform "Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers" by Geoffrey Cowan and Leroy Aarons in Hancher. There is a charge for tickets. Ticket holders are invited to take part in a discussion with the cast following the "Top Secret" performance.

Other events surrounding the lecture and performance, all free and open to the public, are:

--A free discussion with UI law faculty member Randall Bezanson, author of "How Free Can the Press Be?" on "Know the Score Live," broadcast by KSUI FM 91.7 from the UI Museum of Art at 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25.

--A discussion, featuring Bezanson and Sanford Ungar, former Washington Post, NPR reporter and director of Voice of America, and author of "The Papers & the Papers: An account of the legal and political battle over the Pentagon Papers," about the play and the history and themes it explores, on "The Exchange" at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29 on WSUI AM 910.

--"New York Times Co. v United States: A Re-enactment," featuring UI College of Law Emeritus Dean N. William Hines and retired UI General Council Mark Schantz, at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, in Levitt Auditorium of the Law Building. Ellsberg will participate a discussion following the re-enactment, moderated by UI journalism faculty member Carolyn Dyer and also featuring Unger and law faculty members Bezanson and Tung Yin.

--A free "press conference" with high-school journalists throughout the state and members of the cast exploring First Amendment issues on the Iowa Communications Network, will originate in Hancher at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30.

The documents that became known as the Pentagon Papers were commissioned by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in 1967 to gain an understanding of the origins and decision-making processes of the Vietnam War. The Defense Department completed a 47-volume, 7,000-page study in 1969, shortly after Richard Nixon became president.

Ellsberg, a former Defense Department employee and RAND Corporation economics analyst, was a one-time hawk who had come to believe that the war was a tragic mistake. He became convinced that the American people should be informed about the series of mistakes and deceptions that led to and perpetuated American involvement in Vietnam.

The New York Times began a series of stories, based on the Pentagon Papers, in the summer of 1971, and Nixon ordered the Attorney General to ask the courts to block further stories. After the district court issued an injunction against the Times, Ellsberg gave a set of the documents to the Washington Post, which was not covered by the order. Publication of information from the Pentagon Papers led to a constitutional showdown at the Supreme Court.

Ellsberg will receive the UI Lecture Committee's Distinguished Lecture Award during his appearance at the university. The objective of these lectures is to feature a renowned citizen who is distinguished in his/her knowledge, experience, influence and position in public office, foreign affairs, industry, science, literature or the arts. The lecture is intended to address compelling issues that both appeal to and inspire UI students, faculty and staff. Past medal recipients include Jimmy Carter, Frank McCourt, Janet Reno, Bill Clinton, Lech Walesa and Maya Angelou.

Since the Vietnam War, Ellsberg has been a lecturer, writer and activist on the dangers of the nuclear era and government wrongdoing. To encourage national security whistle-blowing, he launched the Truth-Telling Project in 2004. In addition to his new book, "Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers," Ellsberg is the author of "Risk, Ambiguity, and Decision." For more information on Ellsberg, see

To develop "Top Secret," Cowan, director of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, worked with Leroy Aarons, a former Washington Post reporter, interviewing most of the key participants and using the actual documents and court transcripts.

Learn more about the history of the Pentagon Papers, and about this production, at The site includes a PDF study guide.

The original L.A. Theatre Works recording of "Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers" was made in 1991 and starred Edward Asner, Marsha Mason, Hector Elizondo, Howard Hessman, and James Whitmore. It was directed by Tom Moore and won the Corporation for Public Broad-casting's 1992 Gold Award for outstanding radio production of the year.

L.A. Theatre Works -- with artistic advisors including Edward Asner, Ed Begley Jr., Richard Dreyfuss, Stacy Keach, Marsha Mason, Alfred Molina and JoBeth Williams -- launched its national touring program in 2005, not only offering performances but also collaborating with performance venues and public radio stations to provide outreach and special programming.

"Top Secret" is supported by Marriott Hotels & Resorts and the UI College of Law in honor of Dempsey J. and Mary Thomas Prappas. Media support comes from the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Tickets are $40, $37 and $34; UI student $36 and $15; senior citizen $36, $33.30 and $30.60; youth $28, $25.90 and $23.80.

The Hancher Auditorium box office will reopen following a holiday break on Jan. 22. Business hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

While the box office is closed, tickets may be ordered online, 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's Web site

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail at

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.


SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Winston Barclay, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0073 (office), 319-430-1013 (cell),; George McCrory, University News Services, 319-384-0012,