Neil Sheehan, the New York Times reporter who obtained the “Pentagon Papers” outlining government deception during the Vietnam War, died Thursday at 84, The Washington Post reported.
Sheehan’s wife Susan, an author, told the Post her husband died as a result of complications from Parkinson’s disease.
Sheehan, the son of Irish immigrants, was an alumnus of Harvard University and a U.S. Army veteran, eventually covering the early days of the Vietnam War with United Press International.
In 1971, Sheehan raised eyebrows with a story for The New York Times Book Review suggesting the Nixon administration was guilty of crimes against humanity in Vietnam. While the argument was controversial, it earned the notice of whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg met with Sheehan and gave him a tranche of classified documents proving President Lyndon Johnson’s administration "systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress” about the war.
The U.S. government sought to block the Times from publishing the documents, with government attorneys arguing President Nixon had executive authority to do so. In the 6-3 decision in New York Times Co. v. the United States, the Supreme Court ruled the government had not demonstrated “grave and irreparable danger” from publishing the materials.
Nearly two decades later in 1988, Sheehan published the book “A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam,” a chronicle of the Vietnam war through the eyes of a lieutenant colonel who was critical of the efforts. He won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for the book.