Real -- Then Hollywood -- Now
Real headline from June 18, 1971, "Documents Reveal U.S. Effort in '54 to Delay Viet Election"
First of a Series
By Chalmers M. Roberts
By THE WASHINGTON POST
Real headline from the Denver Post which picked up the story from The Washington Post,
"Fitness devices expose troops"
By Liz Sly
By THE WASHINGTON POST
January 28, 2018 at 6:04 pm
There are differences. The first headline was on a hard copy of a newspaper. Perhaps the tactile nature of the bearer of bad news made it all the more shocking. Not to mention the fact that newspapers, printed using Linotype machines to produce lines of type then set into the printer, left ink smudges on your breakfast hands.
The second headline showed up on my laptop as I read my digital edition of The Denver Post this morning. (For the curious reader. No printer's ink smudges here.)
Steven Spielberg has done it again. Another excellent movie. The Post staring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks is about a newspaper that prints information the United States Government (You know, that government "of the people, by the people and for the people") would rather "the people" not know.
Actually, just as there was more to those days than the Vietnam war, there is much more to this movie. Women's rights, a mega-defensive President. (At least Nixon's expletives were deleted.)
What the movie got wrong. Not in the opening scenes where the soldiers pushed through threateningly quiet, dense jungle, unable to see their enemy. Or the soldiers amid the noise and chaos of injury and loss following a battle. And maybe the soldiers would have referred to the "long-hair," Daniel Ellsberg instead of "that old guy." What was wrong in the opening scenes was that the soldiers looked too old. The average age of American soldiers in Vietnam was 22 compared to WWII and Afghanistan when they were 26. Four years difference is not much, is it? They're all too young.
What The Post gets right is Robert McNamara's glasses and the part in his hair. And the times.
Meryl Streep's portrayal of Katherine Graham is stunning. She gives us a woman who grew up in luxury and privilege. She married. She raised children. She gave the best parties, attended by the best people, including Washington's great and powerful. A woman who lived like she was supposed to until her husband died. Worse yet. Her husband committed suicide and left her to run a newspaper.
As publisher, Graham was certainly not responsible for the business on a daily basis. She had a Board for that. All men. She had an Executive Editor responsible for the newspaper's content. Also a man.
Tom Hanks gives us the editor Ben Bradlee. His character is not nuanced. He's the gungho newspaper guy. His first concern is to beat the competition -- The New York Times. Which brings up the question of the Constitution's First Amendment right to a free press.
That, in turn, brings up the fact that Bradlee's Big Boss is a woman.
For my money, the absolute best scene in the movie is when Bradlee's wife describes for him precisely what Graham's situation is. She is not prepared by her background or her sex's recognized position in society to shoulder the responsibility of defending Freedom of the Press. Such a decision would require her to abandon her loyalties to friends high in the government. To that government itself. Not to mention the very real possibility that she could be imprisoned for publishing classified information from what would come to be called The Pentagon Papers.
Worst case scenario, Bradley might do some time in prison. He might lose his job. He would definitely become high-profile in the world of journalism and would be in high demand for another job.
Graham, on the other hand, could lose her family's business. Their income. The jobs of hundreds of people who worked for her. Her position in her community. Her friends. Her father and husband's legacies.
SPOILER ALERT!!! In case you weren't born when all this went down, were still doing your hippie-dippy drugs, or living your own life safe and secure oblivious to your country's crises of faith ....
She did decide to run the story. The audience where I watched the movie broke into applause. And that's not all. The movie ends with a night watchman calling in a possible break-in at the Watergate office building.
Here we are folks -- 2018 almost half a century later. Less than a week before I saw the movie I took part in the Women's March. More than fifty-thousand of us in Denver. We were of all ages and ethnicities and genders and preferences. And there were many thousands more across this nation as we endure another crisis of faith in our country.
Freedom of the Press is included in the First Amendment to the Constitution for good reason. Remember: “If a nation expects to be ignorant & free, ... it expects what never was & never will be. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.” -- Thomas Jefferson