The day an Alaskan held the White House accountable
“The Post” recounts The Washington Post’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers. In this week’s Reality Check, John Tracy tells the rest of the story: how Alaska Senator Mike Gravel stood up to his colleagues and the White House.
"The Post" might be the most anticipated movie since “All the President’s Men”-- at least for political junkies.
For journalists, it’s more than a history piece but a reminder of the trust once enjoyed by the Fourth Estate and the responsibility it still has.
The Spielberg-directed film dramatizes the real-life decisions made by The Washington Post to publish the so-called Pentagon Papers in 1971
The papers were an official Defense Department study, revealing how the U.S. secretly expanded the war in Southeast Asia for 20 years, hiding the truth from the American people and oftentimes Congress itself.
At the center of the film is Post publisher Katherine Graham, played by Meryl Streep, who must make the decision whether to publish the story while The New York Times was under an injunction from publishing by the Nixon Justice Department.
As is often the case, there is more to the story than can be put into a movie, and "The Post" is no exception.
Did you know, for example, that it was a Senator from Alaska who entered the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record over the objections of the White House and Defense Department?
His name was Mike Gravel, and like Nixon’s Interior Secretary, a fellow by the name of Wally Hickel, was adamantly opposed to the Vietnam War.
Hickel would ultimately lose his job over it.
As for Gravel, after starting a filibuster to stop the draft, he agreed to a request by The Washington Post to read the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record.
As the story goes, the documents were delivered to Gravel cloak and dagger-style at midnight in front of Washington’s Mayflower Hotel.
After being blocked by colleagues from reading the papers on the Senate floor, Gravel called a session of the Buildings and Grounds Subcommittee he chaired and he began to read.
"Over the last 20 years, up to today, the American leadership, has not demonstrated it has the trust in the American people and had that faith and trust and straight-forwardness been present, this nation would not be in the mess it’s in today. And, these papers that I’m reading bring that case out more than I could ever write it," Gravel said.
The Army veteran began to weep as he disclosed decades of misinformation over 20 years
"Human beings are being killed as I speak to you tonight-- killed as a direct result of policy decisions [that] we, as a body, have made."
Gravel was hailed as a hero by some, and as a traitor by others.
One can only imagine that today, Gravel would be accused of treason, and the documents would be derided as fake news by pseudo-news organizations. But, that was a different time, when newspapers and television news were trusted-- before cable news acted as PR firms and social media dumbed down our discourse.
It was also a time when Alaska politicians like Gravel and Hickel would cross the aisle and speak truth at the risk of their careers.
I won’t spoil the end of the movie for you, but needless to say, when it comes to the Vietnam War, history has been kind to Katherine Graham, Walter Hickel and Mike Gravel.
Gravel is now 87 and he hasn’t called Alaska home for a very long time. But, while he may not be in the movie, when it came to finally ending the Vietnam War, Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska deserves a very special place in the credits.
John's opinions are his own and not necessarily those of Denali Media or its employees.
Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.
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