Interview: The Most Dangerous Man in America
As a history lesson, Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith’s enthralling new documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, is as solid as a textbook, stitching together old broadcast footage, first-person testimony, tart excerpts from the Nixon White House tapes, and noirish recreations into riveting, revelatory political drama. The name “Daniel Ellsberg” probably doesn’t trigger the same flurry of associations as Deep Throat, the shadowy antihero of the Watergate scandal, but it should: An ex-Marine, former assistant to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, and highly respected analyst at the Rand Corporation, Ellsberg leaked a 7,000-page study detailing the top-secret Southeast Asia policies of five presidential administrations to the New York Times, resulting in a landmark court case, attempted cover-ups, and a nasty smear campaign, all culminating in the ignominious resignation of President Nixon. To be sure, the spy-grade story of the Pentagon Papers controversy has a lot of rich angles, including government secrecy, first-amendment rights versus executive privilege, and the rise of the national security state. But it’s also a conversion tale deeply concerned with the burden of conscience that Ellsberg felt as a government insider to tell the public what he believed they had a right to know, and his desire as a newly minted dove to change the course of the Vietnam War.