In honor of the 50th anniversary of the day the New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers (documents exposing strategy in Vietnam War) on June 13, 1971, I decided to do some research and see what other major news has broken using paper. While my search turned up dozens of major news headlines from newspapers, there were six that particularly caught my attention, including the Pentagon Papers, of course!
- The Titanic
The first news of the devastating Titanic disaster was received by the Marconi wireless station in New York at 10:25 pm on April 14, 1912. The Titanic was first heard giving the distress signal “C. Q. D.,” meaning “Come Quick Danger”, which was answered by several ships, including . The Titanic reported that she had struck an iceberg and was in immediate need of assistance, giving her position as latitude 41:46 north and longitude 50:14 west. The cover story of the New York Times the following morning read as follows:
Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg; 866 Rescued By Carpathia, Probably 1,250 Perish; Ismay Safe, Mrs. Astor Maybe, Noted Names Missing
Biggest Liner Plunges to the Bottom at 2:20 A.M. RESCUERS THERE TOO LATE
Expect to Pick Up the Few Hundreds Who Took to the Lifeboats.
WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST
Cunarder Carpathia Rushing to New York with the Survivors.
SEA SEARCH FOR OTHERS
The California Stands By on Chance of Picking Up Other Boats or Rafts.
OLYMPIC SENDS THE NEWS
Only Ship to Flash Wireless Messages to Shore After the Disaster.
The Titanic had foundered at about 2:20 am, about 34 miles due south of the position at which she struck the iceberg. The boats on Titanic were all accounted for and about 655 souls were saved, most presumably women and children. There were about 2,240 persons aboard the Titanic, with more than 1,500 of those who lost their lives. Those who were lost would be immortalized in both print and history forever.
- “Hitler Dead”
On May 2, 1945, The News Chronicle, now known as the , published this bold headline. At the time, nobody could be sure if this news was true. The article in the News Chronicle claimed that Hitler had been killed in action. However, it was later confirmed that he had committed suicide in a bunker under Chancery in Berlin.
- The Pentagon Papers
The Pentagon Papers was the name given to a top-secret Department of Defense study of U.S. political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. Military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the study, opposed the war and decided that the information contained in the Pentagon Papers should be available to the American public. He photocopied the report and in March 1971, he gave the copy to The New York Times. The New York Times published a series of articles based on the report’s most damning secrets.
The official title of the study was the “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force,” though it would later become famous as the Pentagon Papers.
Although an incomplete version of the Pentagon Papers was published in book form later in 1971, the study remained officially classified until June 2011, when the U.S. government released all 7,000 pages to the public in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of its leakage to the press. The study consisted of 47-volumes, and approximately 3,000 pages of narrative and 4,000 pages of appended documents. It took 18 months to complete.
Some of the most damning information in the Pentagon Papers indicate that the administration of John F. Kennedy had actively helped overthrow and assassinate South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963. The report also contradicted official U.S. government pronouncements about the intensive bombing of North Vietnam.
The Pentagon Papers confirmed speculations in the role of U.S. participation in Indochina from World War II and revealed that the Harry S. Truman administration gave military aid to France in its colonial war against the communist-led Viet Minh, resulting in United States direct involvement in Vietnam.
- “Nixon Resigning”
On August 8, 1974, The Washington Star-News, and many other newspapers not only broke the news of the upcoming resignation, but it also informed people of the time of the televised address. Following the Watergate scandal, President Richard Nixon most likely faced impeachment and made the decision to step down himself before that occurred. He gave a televised evening address during which he resigned from office.
The story, broken by The Washington Post, and the Watergate scandal brought into light the important role of the press as a watchdog over the government.
“Ford to City: Drop Dead”
On October 29, 1975, President Gerald Ford denied the federal assistance necessary to save New York from bankruptcy. The following day, the front page of The Daily News read: “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.” Though he didn’t say those exact words, his comments were not particularly well-received.
“Time to Face the Past”
The Montgomery Advertiser issued a news article and an editorial on April 28, 2018, apologizing for its coverage of the lynching’s of African-Americans over the past decades.
“We take responsibility for our proliferation of a false narrative regarding the treatment of African-Americans in those disgraceful days,” the editorial read. “The Advertiser was careless in how it covered mob violence and the terror foisted upon African-Americans from Reconstruction through the 1950s. We dehumanized human beings. Too often we characterized lynching victims as guilty before proven so and often assumed they committed the crime.”
The front page of the newspaper not only contained the powerful editorial, but it also included the names of some of the victims of the lynchings.
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