“The Founding Fathers gave the Free Press the protection it must have- to fulfill its essential role in a Democracy. The Press must serve the governed, not the governors.”
THIS WAS A LANDMARK DECISION IN 1971, of the American Supreme Court upholding the right of the Washington Post to publish the analysis of The Pentagon Papers.
The highly confidential 4,000 paged document exposed 30 years of the American government’s fooling the Americans about the Vietnam War involving four presidents: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.
They led the nation to believe that in true “Manifest Destiny” ideology -America was winning the war for democracy in Vietnam “to stop communism”. The truth was it was losing the war and still committed thousands of American boys to die in the war to escape the embarrassment of an “American defeat” in a small Asian nation like Vietnam.
Earlier an American court had issued an injunction against the original whistleblower The New York Times to discontinue the publication of the same as it posed damage to the interest of the nation’s defense.
This political thriller of a movie is “The Post” (soon in theaters) which has so far garnered US$134M at the box-office worldwide and made it a strong candidate for “Best Picture “ and WITH Meryl Streep (as Kay Graham “Post” publisher) and Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee “Post” Editor) in the running for “Best Actress” and “Best Actor” in the Oscars, respectively. | PRESS FREEDOM
There was pressure from everywhere for the Post not to publish the story.
Robert McNamara, a once powerful Defense Secretary and a Graham family friend, warned Kay that the current president Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon was a vicious animal “who will muster all the powers of the presidency to crush the Post and you will not have a second chance.”
There were bankers and investors -mulling to buy into 1.3 million shares of the “Post” in an IPO (Initial Public Offering) worth $3-million who threatened to back out of the deal if the “Post” published the controversial papers. This money would have given stability and power to expand to the “Post”.
There were threats from the government legal counsels that the “Post” could be charged criminally for “contempt of court” and publishing inimical news about government engaged in a raging war. It could mean the permanent closure of the newspaper. | PRESS FREEDOM
But Bradless and Graham were made of sterner stuff.
The Editor Bradlee had earlier resisted the demand of the White House to change its reporter there. The chinfirst, rock-jawed, hardnosed editor would not budge as he said: “the administration has no right to dictate what we can and can not print.”
The woman publisher (the first of that gender in a major American newspaper) was even more solid. Although Kay was risking the loss of jobs of many employees she stuck to the legacy of her late husband and father. | PRESS FREEDOM
She reminded her detractors on the board that the mission of the paper was to “print outstanding news and to champion the interest of the nation and the welfare of a free press.”
Graham then kind of figuratively wielded a sharp knife and told the group that anyone who disagrees with her is not welcomed in the board. Even as she told the imprudent McNamara:” I am seeking your advice, not your permission” whether to print in the “Post”.
Jubilation rocked the nation when the Supreme Court voted 6-3 in favor of the “Post” as everybody wanted to end the Vietnam war and were angered for being lied to by the American government.
Scores of other newspapers then joined in publishing The Pentagon Papers in solidarity with the Times and the Post.
The Hindustan Times then editorialized:” To control the news is to control the votes and to control the votes is to control your fate. The press has always been a vulnerable machine, both envied and coveted. They’ve tried to attack it, to tame it, to cage it, but like Bradlee and Kay Graham, it barrels on.”
The piqued Nixon retaliated by banning all “Post” newsperson in the White House, church services and social life of the First Family. One wonders whose loss it was.
Years later, this enemy of the American media was indicted, impeached and consequently resigned as President for the “obstruction of justice” over the Watergate scandal involving the illegal break-in of the Democrat’s political headquarters.
Today’s scenario may be unlike the 70’s as there are so much social media and the proliferation of “fake news” these days.
But one lesson to be learned from the “Post” is that this newspaper was there “to doubt, to challenge, never to settle” in the face of massive government propaganda of lies.
That should also be the attitude today as we read an overload of information – wrong, right and middle- to doubt, challenge and not to settle.
Catch the movie “The Post” in your local theaters. And understand the struggle of the legitimate mainstream media to pursue the ends of truth and justice. | PRESS FREEDOM
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