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'The Post' Puts Pentagon Papers Back On The Front Page

With guest host Tom Gjelten. 

The new film “The Post,” with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, puts the Pentagon Papers back on the front page. The massive leak of government documents helped shed light on the Vietnam War, and the lies the government was telling about it.

Among others, we’re talking to Leslie Gelb, a former Department of Defense official who will tell us exactly how leaker Daniel Ellsberg got away with the documents.

We’re digging in and consider its impact on journalism, now.


Alissa Wilkinson, film critic at Vox. (@alissamarie)

Leslie Gelb, director of policy planning at the Department of Defense from 1967 to 1969, where he directed the project that produced the Pentagon Papers.

Nicholas Lemann, professor of journalism at Columbia Journalism School and staff writer at the New Yorker.

Sally Quinn, Washington Post columnist and moderator of “On Faith.” (@sallyquinndc)

From The Reading List:

Vox: Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Post’ Makes An Entertaining, Timely Case For The First Amendment — “The Post starts on the battlefields of Vietnam, where Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), working for the State Department, sees things that make him start to question American involvement in Vietnam. His belief that the US government isn’t handling the war well is only heightened when he contributes to what would later be called the Pentagon Papers, a study of classified documents commissioned by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). Knowing that the papers contain explosive revelations, including secrets regarding the winnability of the war that were kept from the American people, Ellsberg eventually copied them and worked to get them into the hands of the New York Times.”

Before Watergate, there were the Pentagon Papers. Leaked to the New York Times and the Washington Post, they revealed untold stories about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. A new movie out today takes us behind the scenes at the Washington Post as top executives there consider whether they dared to defy the White House and publish the papers. It’s called The Post, and it’s a story with new relevance. This hour, On Point: The Pentagon Papers, revisited. —Tom Gjelten

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In this image released by 20th Century Fox, Tom Hanks portrays Ben Bradlee in a scene from "The Post." (Niko Tavernise/20th Century Fox via AP)
In this image released by 20th Century Fox, Tom Hanks portrays Ben Bradlee in a scene from "The Post." (Niko Tavernise/20th Century Fox via AP)