Last Saturday night I was watching, for the tenth time, the DVD THE POST. And of course I was sitting there blowing my nose and wiping away my tears. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is the heroic story of The Washington Post newspaper editor Ben Bradley and publisher Kathryn Graham and their decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Now later the Post would be the paper that broke the story of Watergate and the crimes and corruption in the Nixon White House, but the Pentagon Papers came before that. The Pentagon Papers were released by Daniel Ellsberg (a whistle-blower) because he had seen first hand the war in Viet Nam and he had read the secret report that had been commissioned by Bob McNamara on the history of the Viet Nam war from 1947 to 1967. Ellsberg says in the movie that 10% of the war was to fight Communism and 20 % of the war was to help the people of Viet Nam so that meant 70% of the war was just so the U.S. could save face by not losing the war. Seventy per cent of the men dying in Viet Nam were dying for a president to save face and that covered Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Not one of them would admit we were losing the conflict. The New York Times and the Washington Post defended the first freedom in the Bill of Rights which includes freedom of the press, “Congress shall make no law. . .abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” by taking their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The judges ruled 6 to 3 that the American people had the right to know. Justice Roberts said the newspapers exist for the right of the governed and not those who govern. It really was monumental.
Today we find the battle for freedom of the press continuing. Many of the big city newspapers are gone now, lost to news from the internet and a public that continues to read less and less. But freedom of the press is a liberty worth fighting for. Dictators go after the media when they take power and journalists in television and newspapers are the first to be attacked. The murder of journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi by the leaders of Saudi Arabia shows the long arm of tyranny. But it really has been good to see this basic American right being upheld in our own community’s discussions concerning the school bond issue. Long, impassioned pleas by both sides have given attention to the importance of truth and the freedom to express our opinion openly in our small community. Another issue that has received attention is the activity of the DEQ and the issue of oil waste disposal in Eastern Montana. Farmers and ranchers and the Northern Plains Resource Council have been given an opportunity to be heard at public hearings as well as expressing their opinions in a free and open press.
We must not ever take freedom of the press for granted. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, fighting the Nazi regime in his native Germany during World War II said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” To suppress a free press is to bring down a silence that destroys truth and a government in a democratic society made up of free men and women must never be afraid of the truth. One newspaper had on its masthead the words, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
Say “thank you” to the men and women of our local radio and tv stations and our newspaper who lift up the issues that are important to us right here. It is through their work we are heard.