On June 13, 1971, The New York Times began publishing stories based on months of reporting on a 7,000-page study entitled "History of U.S. Decision-making Process on Vietnam Policy, 1945-1967." A study, referred to as the Pentagon Papers and leaked to the paper by researcher Daniel Ellsberg, set off a bomb in the journalism and political world. The Times published a second story based on the documents the following day before the Nixon administration got a judge to slap an injunction on the newspaper to cease its reporting, saying the papers were stolen and amounted to near treason.
On June 17, The Washington Post obtained 4,400 pages of the papers and started working on a series of articles to begin the following day. With The New York Times silenced by the courts, the Post lawyers and reporters argued over whether to go with their reporting. After hearing from lawyers and Bradlee, publisher Katherine Graham said, "OK, I say let's go. Let's publish."
"What I didn't understand, as Katherine's 'OK ... let's go. Let's publish' rang in my ears, was how permanently the ethos of the paper changed, and how it crystallized for editors and reporters everywhere how independent and determined and confident of its purpose the new Washington Post had become," Bradlee wrote.
The epic legal battle that ensued culminated on June 30, 1971 in the U.S. Supreme Court's 6-3 decision to lift the prior restraints -- arguably the most important Supreme Court case ever on freedom of the press.