Why free press is so important
By Jerrison Oracion, Senior Columnist
Since Donald Trump became the President of the United States last year, he has upset a lot of people with his policies and his tweets—including the media. He even called certain news agencies that did not approve of his actions “fake news.” Even when these news agencies report something that is true, Trump will say that it is false. Many people compare Trump to the former president Richard Nixon, and it shows in Steven Spielberg’s most recent film The Post.
The film is about the Washington Post during the Vietnam War which, at the time, was a local newspaper. When the war was happening, everyone was told that the US troops were successful in their mission to make sure that Vietnam would become a democratic country. The truth is that the mission ended unsuccessfully with a lot of casualties.
People did not know about this until Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst for the State Department during the war, got the documents that summarized the mission and leaked them to the New York Times. When the New York Times published these documents, the US government took legal action to silence them, then the Washington Post got their hands on the documents, and they published vital parts of the study. The country found out what really happened during the Vietnam War and the newspaper became a national institution.
Both newspapers went to the Supreme Court and argued that they had the freedom to publish the documents because of the First Amendment. The case ended with the newspapers winning 6 to 3. In politician Hugo Black’s thoughts on the case that we hear at the end of the film, he says that the free press has, “the protection it must have to fulfill its essential duty in our democracy.” He goes on to say that, “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”
After that, Nixon was so angry that he banned the Washington Post from covering what his administration was doing until Watergate happened—which can be related to Trump preventing CNN and other news outlets from attending certain press briefings.
Free press is important because if the Washington Post did not win the case, the information in every history book today would be inaccurate. The purpose of the press is to inform the public on what is happening in the world, backed up with facts.
The First Amendment allowed the media to publish government documents, even if it weakened national security. The film shows recordings from the Nixon tapes which display Nixon’s temper, which seems very similar to Trump’s.
While we still do not know exactly what is happening in the White House right now, if there is someone that knows what is happening and tells it to a news agency, we would know the actual story—just like what happened in The Post.