This is a plug for a movie called “The Post.”
I urge you to go see it, especially if you can still remember the early 1970s.
For those too young to remember the 1970s and late 1960s, or, those of you (us), who can’t remember anymore, here are a few highlights.
Our beloved nation was in turmoil. For starters, the civil rights movement turned our country on its head. After Martin Luther King was assassinated, we saw race riots in the streets of many of our major cities. Our politics were scrambled and Robert F. Kennedy, a presidential candidate, was murdered. Then there was the war in Vietnam.
Many thought it was their patriotic duty to put on the uniform and serve, others believed it was their patriotic duty to protest the war itself.
It was a time before the internet, the personal computer, the smartphone and, even 24-hour cable news.
If you wanted the short version of the news of the day, you would watch the evening news on TV. If you really wanted to find out details of what was happening in your town, state, and nation, you read the newspapers.
During the administration of President Richard Nixon, his defense secretary, Robert McNamara, commissioned an exhaustive academic study of America’s involvement in Vietnam. We know the study as “The Pentagon Papers.”
Among other things, the top-secret study showed former presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson had misled the American public about our role in that conflict.
A researcher named Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the study, believed the American people had a right to know about the war and he leaked the Pentagon Papers to Neil Sheehan, a reporter for the New York Times.
The Times stories were a national sensation and the Nixon Administration quickly filed suit in federal court to stop their publication.
The Washington Post also obtained a copy of the Pentagon Papers. But, should they publish them? After all, they were classified top secret and a federal judge had barred the Times from publishing. Did this order apply to the Post?
The movie “The Post” answers those questions.
But “The Post” is more than a story about journalism. It is the story of the courage and pluck of the paper’s publisher, Katherine Graham.
It was a time when there were few, if any, major business concerns headed by a woman. Most major boards of directors were populated by older white men in dark suits. They frequently tended to dismiss and ignore the opinions of people who were not older white men wearing dark suits.
Katherine Graham became publisher of The Post after her husband committed suicide. She was not trained as a journalist. She was a well-liked and admired socialite, but deferred many business decisions to “the suits.”
When Ben Bradley, her hard-charging managing editor, got his hands on the Pentagon Papers, he was anxious to publish stories about them. He went to his boss, the publisher, and told her it would cause a ruckus.
Graham’s business executives and advisors advised her to back off. Publishing the Pentagon Papers stories would put the corporation at risk and, she might just go to jail.
In the movie, there is what looks like a classic case of what we now call “mansplaining,” a term that has come to describe a man explaining a situation to a woman in a condescending manner, as if she has no clue what is going on.
Of course, Graham knew the risks and, in the key scene of the movie, she looks one of the “suits” in the eye and says: “This is my paper. I am asking for your advice, not your permission.”
The Post ran the stories based on the Pentagon Papers and within days, they and The Times were in the Supreme Court facing off against the might of the government.
In a 6 to 3 decision, the court upheld the First Amendment allowing the Post, the Times and other newspapers to publish.
Justice Hugo Black wrote: "In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly.”
"In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam war, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the founders hoped and trusted they would do.”
The Post is scheduled to play at our own Harbor Theater on Feb. 23. Don’t miss it.
On a personal note, last week, victims, prosecutors, and the judge in the Dr. Nasser/gymnastics sex abuse case praised my old paper, The Indianapolis Star, for exposing the U.S. Gymnastics team doctor.
Well done, old friends.