During the Vietnam War, the media played an unprecedented role for the first time. The gruesome images of a war entered the living rooms via television. The photo of Kim Phuc, who fled for napalm bombs, is engraved in everyone’s memory and won the World Press Photo of the year 1972.
Even after the war, the media continued to be inspired by one of the greatest failures in American history. Numerous TV series, documentaries and films are devoted to the Vietnam War. Fictional and non-fictional scenarios for in-depth investigative journalism packed into expensive documentary productions.
43 years after the Vietnam War, director Steven Spielberg comes with the film The Post (2018), a story about the leakage of the Pentagon Papers. This true story from 1971 is about deliberately causing confusion by the government to make everyone doubt, with the result that no one can discern the truth of the lie. This happened under four presidents: Truman, Eisenhouwer, Kennedy and Johnson. With this, the film attracts several topical themes, such as press freedom, whistleblowers, leaking confidential information and fake news.
There was a secret report in the Pentagon Archive entitled United States – Vietnam relations, 1945 -1967. In this 7,000-page report with analyzes and original documents, the real intentions of the presidents come to the fore. Despite the multiple warnings for escalations in Vietnam, the White House kept it secret to the American people and Congress.
None of the four presidents wanted to withdraw from Vietnam to avoid losing face: “We are in Vietnam 10% to help the Vietnamese, 20% to hold back Communism and 70% to avoid losing face”. Two million Vietnamese and 50,000 American soldiers died in the 30 years during war.
It started with Truman who supported the French colonial fight in Vietnam and thus took an advance on the Vietnam War; Kenndey supported the coup on South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem and Johnson secretly escalated the war.
In 2009 the documentary The most dangerous man in America reconstructed how in 1971 military analyst for the Pentagon Daniel Ellsberg passed these secret documents to the press. For months he smuggled the report out of the secure archive to make photocopies at night. The New York Times was the first to receive the documents and began publishing the Pentagon Papers on 13 June 1971.
President Nixon was in the White House at the time, and it was possible for the judge to prohibit The New York Times on national security grounds from continuing with these publications. But the editors of The Washington Post had contact with Ellsberg and despite the fear of life-long prison sentences they also started publishing the Pentagon Papers.
In the end, the Supreme Court responded: “In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other newspaper should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly”.