Our republic owes a debt of thanks to Daniel Ellsberg. This film will cause you to remember why.
Who would have ever imagined that cinematic also-rans like Stephen Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep could combine to bring a powerful historic film to the big screen? While I don’t want to rush to judgment, these three artists seem to have a bit of talent!
Setting my cynicism aside, this penetrating movie succeeds on two levels. First of all, it recreates the attempt of both the New York Times and the Washington Post to publish what became known as the Pentagon Papers in order to expose the United States government’s treachery when it came to justifying the Vietnam War. Beginning with Dwight Eisenhower and ending with Richard Nixon, four American presidents intentionally misled the public while sending 55,000 American boys to their death.
When the New York Times’ attempt to publish the Papers was temporarily stopped by governmental legal action, The Post, under the leadership of Publisher Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) and Editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), risked destroying their own newspaper while facing possible prison sentences if they decided to tell the American people the truth. Ms. Graham was not only the first female newspaper publisher in the country but was further handicapped by trying to take the paper public on Wall Street. A widow whose only advice at home came from her daughter Lally (played by Alison Brie), she faced criticism from nearly every man with financial standing based on little more than her alleged weakness flowing from being a female.
While the film has a large cast of characters ranging from Michael Stuhlbarg as Abe Rosenthal, the New York Times publisher, Carrie Coon as Meg Greenfield, Bruce Greenwood as Robert McNamara, Bob Odenkirk as the dedicated Post reporter Ben Bagdikian and Sarah Paulson as Tony Bradlee, this film emulates the genius Ken Burns displayed in his recent 10-part series on the Vietnam War. Both movies establish that the United States has not always been the land of the free and the home of the brave. Our government manipulated a war by orchestrating a campaign that condemned Americans who protested it, and in the process left a stain on our country that time will not wash away.
But this movie stands out for an equally important reason, namely that a democracy cannot exist without a free press. All government officials are public servants who can only be held accountable if the public knows the unvarnished facts. Nearly all dictatorships control the press and as a result maintain power by distorting the truth and lying to the public.
Think about the attempt of President Trump and many of his supporters trying to label all criticism as fake news. It is not an exaggeration to say that our President is dancing on the edge of destroying our republic if he succeeds in muzzling all of the press with the exception of his sycophants on Fox News and right-wing bloviators who dominate AM radio stations like WIBC here in Indianapolis.