WaPo Still Celebrates Liberal Media Dominance of the Vietnam-Watergate Era

The Washington Post championed a new documentary on Friday, a film airing only at one art theater in town. It’s still championing America-bashing radical leftist whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg in a new film titled "The Most Dangerous Man in America."

In a large spread that starts at the top of the front page of the Style section, film critic Ann Hornaday celebrated Ellsberg’s "moral courage" for damaging the war effort by leaking the so-called "Pentagon Papers" to the New York Times in 1971. Hornaday insisted Ellsberg’s radicalism is still "astonishingly germane" today (although the Post never described him with any ideological label, or described the Vietnamese enemy as communists.)

Hornaday lectured that today’s blogosphere-besmirched media might not emphasize and celebrate the "elegant calculus" and "formidable logic" of Ellsberg’s acts today, like the uniformly liberal "mainstream media" of the Vietnam-Watergate era did:

The government and the governed may not come off entirely well in "The Most Dangerous Man in America," but the press can be seen in its finest hour, with such venerable institutions as the New York Times and The Washington Post helping Ellsberg to disseminate the documents, and standing up against the Justice Department's attempts to enjoin them from publishing. Ellsberg ultimately took the documents to 17 outlets in all, leading one observer to note that trying to stop publication was "like herding bees."

To watch this film is to simultaneously re-experience and mourn a bygone common culture, when press outlets now derided as the lockstep MSM could declare something important by putting it on the front page with a 72-point headline. Contemporary Web-centric media culture, with its proliferation of voices and reigning ethic of decentralization, makes everything equally important and unimportant, with each bit and byte of information just another bee to be herded, heeded or tuned out. Had the Pentagon Papers first been published on the Web, one wonders, would they have been all the more easily marginalized or ignored?

One way to rise above the buzz, in fact, is exactly what Ellsberg and the makers of "The Most Dangerous Man in America" are doing, by appearing whenever possible at screenings for Q&A sessions. Taking a page from Al Gore and "An Inconvenient Truth," they're making an otherwise conventional theatrical release a consciousness-raising event and grass-roots organizing tool.

Ellsberg isn’t a leftist to the Post. He’s a "consciousness-raiser." He’s one of those leftists who thinks the public is largely un-conscious. Look at what he told Hornaday about the ignorance and moral weakness of the American public right before Hornaday’s media analysis:

But even when secrets are disclosed, there's no guarantee people will listen. One of the more sobering passages in this new documentary recounts how, after Ellsberg has risked his career, his reputation, a lifetime in jail and maybe worse (Ellsberg points out that Nixon had ordered the plumbers to "totally incapacitate" him), the American public largely ignored the most troubling implications of the Pentagon Papers and the administration's efforts to squelch them.

"The problem with the public is not that they desire war and massacre and torture," Ellsberg said. "The problem is that they can easily be frightened or fooled into killing and massacring and torturing. It just isn't that hard. And it's very hard to stop."

It may be largely forgotten today that public opinion stayed against withdrawal from Vietnam much longer than the "anti-war"movement wanted. A study in left-wing arrogance, Ellsberg felt everyone else in the American government was dumber than he was. From Norman Podhoretz’s 1982 book Why We Were in Vietnam, there’s this line from Ellsberg:

"It is fair to say," Ellsberg wrote in 1972, "that Americans in office read very few books, and none in French [the language of most of the literature then available on Vietnam]; and there has never been an officer of Deputy Assistant Secretary rank or higher (including myself) who could have passed in office a midterm freshman exam in modern Vietnamese history, if such a course existed in this country."

Ellsberg only indicts himself before he became a radical. Podhoretz noted that Ellsberg argued that there was no foreign communist aggression in Vietnam, only American aggression:

"The popular critique that we have ‘interfered’ in what is ‘really a civil war,’" he wrote, "is as much a myth as the earlier official one of ‘aggression from the North.’ This "simply screens a more painful reality: that the war is, after all, a foreign aggression. Our aggression."

Hornaday endorsed this ancient untruth in her movie review, calling the communists only an "indigenous Vietnamese nationalist movement." Ellsberg’s anti-Americanism and advocacy of the moral rightness of the Vietnamese communists is still current and still clear in this Post article:

That 7,000-page document, completed in 1969, came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. After reading its account of American presence and escalation in the region since the 1940s, and systematic government deception about that involvement, Ellsberg concluded, "We weren't on the wrong side, we were the wrong side." [Italics theirs.] That stunning realization compelled Ellsberg, a former Marine and committed Cold Warrior, to make the most momentous decision of his life: to share the classified study first with Congress and, eventually, with the press and the American public.

What stands out to a conservative in these Hornaday puff pieces is how being an anti-anti-communist like the media elite means never having to say you were wrong – and how being a bomb-throwing critic of America’s political leaders and military forces is never contemptible. To Hornaday, the narrative is written in stone: "The broad contours of the story -- Vietnam, domestic unrest, governmental mendacity and journalistic heroics -- are well known."

Hornaday's movie review and worldview are summarized in her promotial blurbs:

"Like a Rosetta Stone linking Vietnam, Watergate, the role of the press in a democracy and the enduring tension between national security and the public's right to know, "The Most Dangerous Man in America" manages to be both engrossing history and astonishingly germane to present-day political debates."

....[It’s] "the classic, compelling tale of one man's moral courage in face of corrupt and overweening state power."

Somehow, it was never a "noble cause" -- in the controversial words of Ronald Reagan on the Vietnam War -- to fight the "overweening state power" that took over South Vietnam and still dominates it today.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis