Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
The New York Times is currently running full-page ads offering a paperback edition of its book, “The Pentagon Papers,” based on the stories the Times broke in 1971 about America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Across the ad runs a blurb declaring: “The most significant leaks of classified material in American history.” It’s not without irony that the source for this endorsement is rival newspaper The Washington Post.
For although the Times got the story first, the Post is reaping the glory in Steven Spielberg’s excellent new film, “The Post.” The film follows in thriller-like fashion the competitive drive that led the Washington Post to play catch-up and publish the classified documents even after the Times was ordered by the courts to stop. Spielberg has a flair for capturing the tensions between Post reporters and editors, notably editor Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks, and publisher Katherine Graham, played by the inimitable Meryl Streep, who’s told by her advisors and lawyers that doing so would threaten the financial stability of the newspaper after it had just gone public on the American Stock Exchange.
Caught between the two sides, the film dramatizes that moment when Graham says, “Let’s go. Let’s publish.” It took courage and a deep sense of responsibility to freedom of the press for Graham, one of the most admired women of her time, to make that decision — a fact neatly captured in a scene near the end of the film.
Spielberg demonstrates a flair for getting the pulse racing in a story about a newspaper standing up for freedom of the press when confronted by a White House bent on keeping secrets secret. It’s a much-needed antidote to the current wave of press bashing.
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Gerald Kato is an associate professor and chair of the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa’s School of Communications. He is a former newspaper and broadcast journalist who covered government and politics in Hawai‘i for many years. Kato also served as an interviewer on the oral history project for the late U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.