We are heartbroken to learn that our dear friend Daniel Ellsberg, world-renowned whistleblower and Freedom of the Press Foundation co-founder, has passed away at the age of 92.
Daniel Ellsberg stands as one of the most influential figures in American history, leaving an indelible impact on the last century. His courageous decision to leak the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times in 1971 led to the most important Supreme Court case for press freedom in the modern era, sparked a series of events that culminated in the resignation of President Richard Nixon, and ultimately accelerated the end of the Vietnam War.
He became a hero to millions for his unwavering anti-war activism and decades-long fight to abolish nuclear weapons, but his long-term legacy may lie with the countless whistleblowers whom he inspired to follow in his footsteps.
As the first source of a journalist to be prosecuted under the often-abused Espionage Act, Ellsberg spent the second half of his life passionately defending other whistleblowers who were less fortunate than him. It’s only because of what he would refer to as “a series of miracles” (in reality, severe government misconduct), that he did not spend decades in prison himself. So, he made it part of his mission to draw attention to the unjust and unconstitutional law, and help the other patriotic whistleblowers who were irreparably harmed by it.
It’s why we’ve always considered whistleblower rights a core press freedom issue. How much of the journalism we know and love would not be possible without the countless Daniel Ellsbergs we never hear about?
It’s also true that Freedom of the Press Foundation would not exist without him, as he was the galvanizing force behind our organization’s founding in 2012. Since then, he sat on our board for more than 10 years and has been our constant inspiration. We only hope we can live up to his righteous example.
Our organization plans to honor our dear friend by carrying the torch for two of the causes he championed for much of his life: reform of the U.S. government’s secrecy system and unconstitutional abuse of the Espionage Act. Recently we announced the creation of the Daniel Ellsberg Chair on Government Secrecy, which aims to tackle those two issues with the same passion, rigor, eloquence, and intellectual honesty that he embodied.
We’ll have more news on that front soon. In the meantime, our thoughts are with his wonderful wife Patricia, his children Robert, Mary, and Michael, and the countless people whose lives he touched, both in person and from afar.