Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

By Hannah Gurman and Kaeten Mistry

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

By Hannah Gurman and Kaeten Mistry

Article excerpt

Byline: Steven Spielberg's acclaimed film "The Post" makes the role of The Washington Post heroic in publishing the Pentagon Papers -- the top-secret history of decision-making in the Vietnam War.

By muting the critical role whistleblowing, the film marginalizes both the story of how and why insider information reached the news media and the government's subsequent efforts to curb the phenomenon.

Whistleblowers serve a vital democratic function, conveying information in the public interest from the state to the media. Unlike leakers, they are not anonymous or narrowly political. Although their actions are maligned by high-level government officials -- who themselves routinely leak information to shape news agendas, tarnish rivals or float policy ideas -- whistleblowers seek to expose and redress systemic wrongdoing and corruption. They play a key role in checking the abuses of state secrecy.

Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower in the Pentagon Papers case, is relegated to the margins of "The Post." Caricatured as a zealous, antiwar liberal, Ellsberg is simply a plot device who sets the stage for the real protagonists: the journalists.

This cartoonish depiction not only distorts Ellsberg but also the broader phenomenon of whistleblowing. Such individuals who reveal state secrets are consummate insiders and begin as believers in the cause.

This was the case for Ellsberg, who joined the Marine Corps in 1954, studied decision theory at Harvard and worked as an analyst at the elite national security think tank RAND. His access to the papers was possible only because he helped write the study in question.

His decision to release the papers was gradual and calculated, motivated less by a narrow political agenda than an evolving faith in a transcendent public interest.

While "The Post" climaxes with the Supreme Court decision in favor of the press, it omits the 1973 (mis)trial against Ellsberg and his accomplice Tony Russo for violating the Espionage Act.

And while "The Post" concludes with the infamous White House Plumbers unit ransacking of the Watergate complex, it overlooks the fact that the group was first created to discredit Ellsberg. …

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