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'The Post,' the speech and the president

Howard Simons (David Cross), Frederick “Fritz” Beebe (Tracy Letts), Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford), Chalmers Roberts (Philip Casnoff), Paul Ignatius (Brent Langdon), Meg Greenfield (Carrie Coon, seate
Howard Simons (David Cross), Frederick “Fritz” Beebe (Tracy Letts), Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford), Chalmers Roberts (Philip Casnoff), Paul Ignatius (Brent Langdon), Meg Greenfield (Carrie Coon, seated) and other members of The Washington Post in Twentieth Century Fox’s "The Post."
Niko Tavernise, Twentieth Century Fox

SALT LAKE CITY — Journalists from the Deseret News newsroom (and newsrooms across the country) have flocked to the movie "The Post," which tells the story of the 1971 legal battle by the Washington Post and the New York Times over the publication of the Pentagon Papers. It should wind up the weekend with a box office showing of more than $12 million to bring its domestic total to $45 million, although it was only the fourth best showing of films this weekend.

The inspiring story focuses on principles protected by the First Amendment — freedom of speech and freedom of the press — and is particularly noteworthy in a week when the president of the United States introduced his Fake News awards, and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona issued a strong defense of truth and those freedoms in a speech to the Senate, even while criticizing the president and drawing harsh words from his own critics.

The Deseret News is focused on principles that guide us in our decision-making, as this important part of our editorial policy states:

“The Deseret News is dedicated to the proposition that truth is eternal and that knowing and acting upon truth makes one free. It is a respected and authoritative moral voice to people of conscience throughout the world. Through meticulously accurate reporting, rigorous analysis and compelling narratives, the Deseret News dispels ignorance, enabling its readers to make a positive difference in their families and communities.”

It's a banner worth carrying as we tell stories both big and small. During the next 45 days, Utah's Legislature will debate important issues that will affect the future of the state. What should be done about marijuana? Is there a credible medical use for it that can be supported? What legislative action needs to occur to ensure there are no unintended consequences. Stories in Sunday's Deseret News detail what's at stake for Utah, a state bordered by two states that have already taken action to legalize its use.

Other notable issues are found in education, in public safety as it relates to drunken driving, in care for the homeless and in access to health care. Cutting through the rhetoric, which we will attempt to do, is essential to finding reasonable solutions.

When Sen. Jeff Flake stood in Congress this past week, he castigated President Trump for the words he is using, which deflect from the important work at hand. Among other things, Flake said:

"It is for that reason that I rise today, to talk about the truth, and its relationship to democracy. For without truth, and a principled fidelity to truth and to shared facts, Mr. President, our democracy will not last.

"2017 was a year which saw the truth — objective, empirical, evidence-based truth — more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government," Flake said.

The full transcript, which was published by Politico, noted that Trump called the media "the enemy of the people" and his Fake News awards are further attempt to discredit the work of journalists. Journalists — all journalists — are flawed and have limitations. And some journalists and their organizations contribute to a breakdown of sound principles when they claim a pursuit of truth while hypocritically pursing a specific agenda.

Nevertheless, the principles espoused in the First Amendment are worth protecting, which is why Sen. Flake's speech resonated this week, even if his own rhetoric comparing the words to Stalin struck some as counterproductive.

Deseret News reporter McKenzie Romero is also the head of the Utah chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. She told me she was "riveted" when she watched "The Post" and found herself silently testing her own resolve and principles as a journalist.

"I found myself inspired by several moments in the movie, but two have especially stood out," she said. "The first is Tom Hanks in the role of Ben Bradlee proclaiming that 'The only way to assert the right to publish is to publish!' as he urges taking the story to press without delay. The other comes at the end of the movie, as Meryl Streep, playing Post publisher Katharine Graham, smiles happily watching type being placed reporting the Supreme Court’s decision to back the Post, the Times and the First Amendment. In the moment, Graham tells Bradlee that she knows their reporting won’t be perfect every day, but they must keep working and keep trying, because 'that’s the job, isn’t it?'"

It is the job.

"The Post" finished fourth in the box office this week, failing to outpace "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle," which won the weekend for the third week in a row with $18 million in business, according to Variety.

Sometimes politics is refered to as a game and the media are players in that game. But perhaps the stakes are too high to refer to it that way. Nevertheless, as the new "Jumanji" shows us, if you get sucked into a dangerous game, make sure you can maintain a grasp of reality using true, sound principles, or if not, find a good exit strategy.