“The Post, which opens tonight, is a good movie but bad history. It exaggerates the role of The Washington Post in the success of the publication of the Pentagon Papers and the subsequent Supreme Court case. It downplays the role of the true catalyst in the real life drama: The New York Times. Kay Graham and Ben Bradlee, who were good friends of mine, must be rolling over in their graves laughing at the roles Hollywood has given them.”
Thus begins James Goodale’s op-ed in The Daily Beast. Recall, that Mr. Goodale was the former vice president and general counsel for The New York Times and, later, the Times’ vice chairman. It has been reported that Goodale was “the leading force behind the Times’ decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971.” He is also the author of Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles (2013). In other words, he is someone quite familiar with the real story of the Pentagon Papers episode.
The Post, adds Goodale, “is about Katherine Graham’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers. It creates a false impression that the Post was a major player in such publication. It’s as though Hollywood had made a movie about the Times’ triumphant role in Watergate. In fact, the Post had as much to do with the Pentagon Papers as the Times did with Watergate. But then again, we don’t look to Hollywood for history but entertainment, and The Post is good entertainment at the Academy Award level. . . .”
“While The Washington Post gets the lion’s share of the glory in the movie, it was the Times that did the vast majority of the hard work and took on far more risk in publishing the Pentagon Papers.”
Goodale closes his op-ed with this observation: “The Times eventually won the Pulitzer Prize. It did not share this prize with the Post any more than the Post shared its prize for its Watergate coverage with the Times. For Hollywood now to create the impression that The Washington Post was the key driver responsible for the publication of the Pentagon Papers or the case is—well, it’s Hollywood: good drama but bad history.”