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Explore our coverage of government and politics.

'The Post' And It's Parallels With The News Of Today

Screenshot from the trailer for 'The Post'
Steven Spielberg rushed to finish 'The Post' in just under seven months, inspired to defend the importance of a free press.

Apparently perceiving a conspiracy of Democrats, the press and liberal elites, the president is seething. Those around him have never seen him so angry.

He declares that something must be done – no matter what form it takes. He acts irrationally. And a special unit in the White House is created to hunt down and punish those responsible. This sets in motion a chain of events that lead to articles of impeachment. And three years later the President resigns in disgrace.

The president in question was Richard Nixon, and the source of his anger was the leaking of the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, Washington Post and other papers. Leaks – the disclosure of inside information – have challenged many presidents. But so far, Nixon is the only one that was forced to resign.

When the stories from the Papers started appearing, one of Nixon’s former top aides said that “a hatred of the press, a need to stop the leak and teach the leakers a lesson, caused Nixon to go over the brink, to lose his sense of balance… to create the climate that led to Watergate…”

This is the story told in Steven Spielberg’s latest movie, The Post, a highly entertaining account of the battle to publish the Pentagon Papers — the top-secret government account of U.S. political and military involvement in Vietnam. Spielberg rushed to finish movie in just under seven months, inspired to defend the importance of a free press.

Eventually the Supreme Court upholds the newspapers’ right to publish. Justice Hugo Black writes that the purpose of the media is to “serve the governed not the governors” arguing that “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”

Back in the White House, spurred on by Nixon’s fury, the “plumbers” move from investigating leaks to darker work, including a series of burglaries -- actions that will eventually lead directly to Nixon’s resignation.

Many see parallels with today’s White House, and a president also prone to lash out in anger at the Press, Democrats, liberal elites and others. Once again there’s also a special prosecutor with wide-ranging powers following his footsteps. And once again, the media is playing a critical first amendment role - bringing a spotlight to bear on those in power.

But unlike the movie, we just don’t yet know where this particular story will end.

Richard Watts teaches communications and public policy in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Vermont and directs the Center for Research on Vermont. He is also the co-founder of a blog on sustainable transportation.
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