In an interview with the PBS NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown, actor Tom Hanks explains what compelled him to take on the role of The Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in Steven Spielberg’s newest film “The Post,” which chronicles the paper’s decision to publish the 47-volume Pentagon Papers.
The Pentagon Papers, a set of top-secret documents from the Department of Defense detailing United States’ complete involvement in the Vietnam War, were leaked to the press in March 1971. The Post decided to publish the papers in spite of threats from the Nixon Administration
The papers “demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress,” about American involvement in the war, a New York Times report said later.
For Hanks, the Pentagon Papers expose an “elusive quality of the truth” that’s still present today.
“The truth was so volatile…so toxic at that time… that no one wanted to talk about it,” he said. “Ben Bradlee and [former Washington Post publisher] Kay Graham, for about a week, not only altered the state of their newspaper empire, but they also altered the state of the First Amendment and the history of the world. By what? By printing the truth. Dear lord, if that’s a dangerous thing to do, we’re in a bad place.”
Watch his remarks in the player above. Jeffrey Brown’s interview with Tom Hanks about his new book of short stories, “Uncommon Type,” will air on the PBS NewsHour tonight.