National Press Club

This Week in National Press Club History: Wendell Willkie, Pentagon Papers

June 10, 2013 | By Elizabeth Smith Brownstein |

June 12, 1940: Wendell H. Willkie speaks at a sweltering Club luncheon during his dark horse campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. A former Democrat who had never before run for office, Willkie trails his three opponents -- famous organized crime fighter and front-runner Thomas E. Dewey, Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft and Michigan Senator and former journalist Arthur H. Vandenberg. Asked at the off-the record luncheon why he had left the Democratic party, he replied, “I did not leave my party. My party left me.” Later that summer, he won the Republican nomination in a huge upset on the sixth ballot, but lost to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the general election.

Many other presidential hopefuls have tested the waters at the National Press Club, including Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Vice President Hubert Humphrey in 1968.

June 13, 1971: The New York Times begins publication of the Pentagon Papers, a government study of United States involvement in Southeast Asia, touching off a constitutional battle over freedom of the press. Neil Sheehan receives the Drew Pearson Award for investigative journalism for breaking the Pentagon Papers story, at a National Press Club luncheon on December 13, 1971. Forty years later, the National Archives officially declassifies the papers.

June 16, 1998: Dale Earnhardt Sr., one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers, speaks at a NPC luncheon. Four months earlier he had won the Daytona 500, after 19 unsuccessful attempts. In 2001, Earnhardt was killed in a crash during the final lap of that same race.

This Week In National Press Club History is brought to you by the History & Heritage Committee, which preserves and revitalizes the Club’s century-old history through lobby displays, events, panel discussions and its long-standing oral history project.

To learn more about the committee’s activities or to join the committee, contact Chair Gilbert Klein at

Check out the Club’s website for more on our history at www. press. org/about/history. And take a look at the ommittee’s latest display, created from the Club’s archives, in the lobby across from the front desk.