Gerald Gold, Editor on the Pentagon Papers, Dies at 85
By DOUGLAS MARTIN Published: August 3, 2012
Gerald Gold, an editor for The New York Times who helped supervise the herculean task of combing through a secret 2.5-million-word Defense Department history of the Vietnam War, later known as the Pentagon Papers, to produce articles showing that officials had lied about the war, died on Wednesday at a hospice in Melville, N.Y. He was 85.
The cause of death was heart failure, his daughter Madeleine Gold said.
After Neil Sheehan, a reporter for The Times, was given 47 volumes of top-secret documents, filling 7,000 pages, he and Mr. Gold checked in to a hotel suite in Washington to evaluate the material. Once they had determined its usefulness, they flew to New York to brief top editors, buying a seat for the documents so they could keep them in sight.
The Times published the first of a series of articles on the papers on June 13, 1971. The documents demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson administration “systematically lied” to Congress and the public about “a subject of transcendental national interest and significance,” The Times said in 1996.
After two more articles appeared, the government won a court order restraining further publication.
On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of The Times, voting 6 to 3 to allow the resumption of publication.
The Pentagon Papers episode was hailed as a huge victory for press freedom and prompted new skepticism about government. But before any of that, somebody had to do hours of laborious, exacting work preparing articles about, and excerpts from, the papers for publication. Mr. Gold, an assistant foreign editor, shouldered much of the burden.
He arranged for a suite at the New York Hilton Hotel on Avenue of the Americas, where he, Mr. Sheehan and Allan M. Siegal, another assistant foreign editor, began the project. In the end, their makeshift office grew to nine rooms. There were no computers and not enough photocopiers — only mountains of paper.
In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Sheehan expressed gratitude to Mr. Gold for his reassuring presence as Mr. Sheehan stayed up three days and two nights to finish the second and third installments of the series. “Stay with it, man, you’ll make it,” he remembered Mr. Gold’s saying.
Gerald Gold, who lived in Beechhurst, Queens, was born on Jan. 11, 1927, in Brooklyn. After serving in the Navy in World War II, he earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Long Island University. He got a master’s degree in English literature from New York University and pursued a doctorate in Elizabethan literature at Columbia, but left to work at The Times without completing his dissertation.
Mr. Gold is survived by his wife of 62 years, the former Gloria Daniels, a retired New York City schoolteacher; another daughter, Audrey Gueldenzopf; a son, Martin; and four grandchildren.