September 1969, an antiwar Vietnam press conference was held at Haverford College, Pennsylvania, United States. Part of a meeting of War Resisters' International, an anti-war organization composed of anti-war activists from 30 countries. Randy Kehler, a peace activist who refuses to serve in the military, gave a speech there. He called the Vietnam war "eating up the young people of the United States". It was the day that Kehler prepared to go to jail. His rejection of conscription and his constant anti-war campaigns led to him being dragged to prison.
Kehler's words about the war eating up young Americans are entrenched in Daniel Ellsberg's head. Running to the toilet in the middle of a press conference, Ellsberg cried for about an hour. Ellsberg is a military analyst who was part of the drafting team for the Pentagon Papers, a study on the Vietnam war led by US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. He was one of the people who knew best that the US should have stopped sending troops to Vietnam long ago. The US will never win that war.
The scene of the press conference of both Kehler and Ellsberg crying in the toilet is not in The Post, Stephen Spielberg's Oscar-nominated 2018 film. But it was Ellsberg's moment of "meeting" with Kehler that actually underlies the whole story The Post. This moment is recorded in Ellsberg's memoir Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers released in 2002.
Haunted by guilt after hearing Kehler's speech, a week after the press conference, Ellsberg took the Pentagon Papers documents he had stored at RAND Corporation, the research institute where he was based, and began photocopying the 7,000-page document.
Initially, Ellsberg intended to only share this document with lawmakers and hoped that parliament would have the power to force the government to withdraw troops from Vietnam. However, when his lobbying during the 1970s failed to convince the parliament, Ellsberg began to think about opening the document to the media. The New York Times was the first to be targeted because he knew and worked with Neil Sheehan, a senior journalist the New York Times.
Here comes the story The Post started. Ben Bradlee - well played by Tom Hanks -, executive editor the Washington Post, on Saturday 12 June 1971, raised his concern in that newsroom New York Times will have a special headline on Sunday because Sheehan was not present at the press conference questioning President Richard Nixon's daughter's marriage. Having an apprentice reporter go to New York to find out dummy page one the Times Sunday's issue, Bradlee's worries are evident. Sunday 13 June 1971, the Times brings up the Pentagon Papers on page 1, alongside stories about Nixon's child marriage, the New York City budget, and the India-Pakistan conflict.
The Post "Beard fire". Every sentence “according to the New York Times"Which was written in the Pentagon Papers news, in the confession of Bradlee at a later date, made" hot "journalists the Post. It means that the Times gets exclusive news. The Times one step further than the Post.
Press Freedom VS State Secrets
Trying to find who whistleblower behind the Pentagon Papers, Bradlee received early notice from Katherine "Kay" Graham - played by Meryl Streep - that the Times will be closed temporarily because of the Pentagon Papers news. The closing order came from the attorney general. The Times is considered to leak state secrets. Instead of being grateful for the situation because "not yet" published the Pentagon Paper, there is no need to risk such risks the Times, Bradlee increasingly excited to find the Pentagon document and publish it. Although he also understands the dilemma that Kay faces as the owner the Post who are more concerned with the employees' "rice pot", as well as Kay's friendship with McNamara.
Kay is central to the Spielberg story. As a woman who inherited the family company from her in-laws, after her husband died suddenly, Kay was considered to have no competence. He is only considered a socialite who is incompetent in managing a newspaper company. But Kay is not that shallow. His belief that the success of a newspaper company was measured by the quality of the news it presented and not any non-substantive compromises outside of it, kept him on Bradlee's side when it came to dealing with bankers wanting the Post does not publish the Pentagon Papers document. The only way to protect publishing rights is to publish them.
It is Ben Bagdikian, national editor the Post, who eventually managed to get the document from Ellsberg. Bagdikian worked at the RAND Corporation so he was immediately trusted by Ellsberg. Wednesday, June 16, 1971 Bagdikian flew to Boston to meet Ellsberg and get the documents. The next day on a first class flight, Bagdikian returned to Washington DC with two seats reserved. One for himself and one for the pile of cardboard documents.
Bradlee, after getting Kay's approval through a tough debate, decided to publish the document the next day. Friday afternoon, the assistant attorney general called Bradlee to stop publication of the Pentagon Papers. But as is the Times, Bradlee refuses this order, so the Post together the Times have to deal with the state in court. On June 25, 1971, the case went to the Supreme Court. Five days later the Supreme Court won the Post and the Times. Amendment I to the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of the press. The state cannot silence him for any reason.
Two years later, after releasing an investigative report about the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon's resignation, Bradlee wrote: "As long as a journalist tells the truth, based on conscience and principles of justice, then he doesn't have to worry about the consequences."
The era of Post-Truth and Satire for Trump
Spielberg decided to direct the Post after he read the script made by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer. In an interview with the Guardian published January 19, 2018, Spielberg said he took the decision immediately because of the urgent need at this time when the government always accused the press of making fake news. In an era where everyone can create and disseminate information through the help of digital technology, the press is often dragged into this flow. Failed to distinguish between facts and fake news. This is what makes the press today often accused — at least according to US President Donald Trump — of being an “enemy of society” for bringing fake news. A recent Gallup survey revealed that only 1 in 4 Americans trust the mass media, in this case newspapers. A survey released by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism last year also revealed that 33 percent of the 70,000 respondents from 36 countries said they could not believe the truth of the news.
Unfortunately, in this film, Spielberg does not provide a large portion for Ellsberg. It did not say what happened to Ellsberg after leaking the document, other than that dozens of other newspapers later followed suit the Times and the Post publish Pentagon documents. In fact, Spielberg clearly gave a large portion of the courage of the women behind the publication of the Pantagon Papers. Starting from the publication approval taken by Kay, the mysterious woman who gave the document at the editorial desk the Post, women prosecutors who thanked Kay ahead of the verdict at the Supreme Court, to women anti-war activists who stood outside the Supreme Court building and made way for Kay.
Nevertheless, The Post released at the right moment. The moment when people doubt who they should lean on to get the right information. The moment when the majority of journalists prefer to quote statements rather than bother to verify data and trace facts. The Post at least it brings back memories of the most basic task a journalist should do, as Bradlee puts it: "They learn, they report, they verify, they write and they publish. " (Fransisca Ria Susanti)