The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Film. By Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith. 2009. 94 minutes.
The riveting story of how a Pentagon official risks life in prison by leaking 7,000 pages of a top secret report to the New York Times to help stop the Vietnam War.

  • Time Periods: People’s Movement: 1961 - 1974, 20th Century | Themes: Media, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements | Reading Levels: High School | Resource Types: Films
dangerousThe Most Dangerous Man in America winner of the 2011 History Makers Award for Best History Production

In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a high-level Pentagon official and Vietnam War strategist, realized that the war was based on decades of lies and leaked 7,000 pages of top secret documents to the New York Times, making headlines around the world. Hailed as a hero, vilified as a traitor, and ostracized by even his closest colleagues, Ellsberg risked life in prison to stop a war he helped plan.

This riveting story of one man’s profound change of heart is also a piercing look at the world of government secrecy as revealed by the ultimate insider. This political thriller unravels a saga that leads directly to Watergate, Nixon’s resignation, and the end of the Vietnam War.

The story is told by Ellsberg — as narrator, in current interviews and archival footage — and a cast of supporting characters who “lived” the Pentagon Papers episode including Ellsberg’s wife and son, “co-conspirator” Tony Russo, historian/activist Howard Zinn, journalists Hedrick Smith and Max Frankel, attorneys Lenny Weinglass and James Goodale, Watergate principals Egil “Bud” Krogh and John Dean, and — in a rarely seen interview and his own secret White House tapes — President Nixon himself.

The producers explain: “Our film speaks directly to the world today, as national security and the people’s right-to-know are in constant tension. It raises questions about civil courage, following conscience, taking risks, and speaking truth to power. It challenges people everywhere who are looking to better understand the world of power and who search their own hearts for ways to take a stand and make a difference.”

Produced and directed by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith. A co-production of Judith Ehrlich, Rick Goldsmith and Independent Television Service (ITVS) with major funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and ZDF/Arte.

Teaching Guide

Download a teaching guide developed by the Zinn Education Project. The 100-page, 8-lesson guide for use in middle school to college classrooms is available for free.

 

 

 

Film Trailer


Film Awards and Recognition
How to Purchase the Film
  • Home viewing: list price is $27.95  available from First Run Features.
  • Middle and high schools/public libraries/community groups: the rate is $99 from New Day Films. To receive a 50% discount, enter the code CR79HL in the discount field and click update to purchase for $50. Select Community Groups/Public Libraries/High Schools and complete your purchase. The educator version of the film has extras including audio-clips from the Nixon White House tapes, Spanish sub-title option, closed captioning, filmmaker bios, excerpts from Secrets by Daniel Ellsberg, and more.
  • Colleges/universities: the institutional rate is $295 from New Day Films. To receive a 50% discount, enter the code CR79HL in the discount field and click update to purchase for $150. Select Institutions (Colleges/Universities) and complete your purchase. The educator version of the film has extras including audio-clips from the Nixon White House tapes, Spanish sub-title option, closed captioning, filmmaker bios, excerpts from Secrets by Daniel Ellsberg, and more.
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