The Most Dangerous Man in America
Directed by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith (First Run Features, 2009)
Plato believed some stories need to be told over and over, fed to our children like mother's milk. The story of the whistleblower is one we must keep telling, for people in high places are forever trying to sell us a new set of emperor's clothes.
In Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith's documentary about the most famous and infamous whistleblower in American history, Daniel Ellsberg narrates the tale of his journey from Marine combat officer and high-ranking Pentagon and Rand Corporation analyst to the man who smuggled out to The New York Times more than 7,000 pages of a secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam War, a history revealing that the American people had been lied to over and over again about the purpose, facts, and course of the war.
As a personal narrative, Ellsberg's tale explores the character of a whistleblower, examining the interior forces that drove him to dissent from the shared delusion of his colleagues and superiors. This tale is a useful meditation on the importance of listening to our own conscience and standing up for what we know to be true, difficult choices in a culture of consent.
In addition, Ehrlich and Goldsmith tell Ellsberg's personal story against the backdrop of a larger tale of government deceit and denial, reminding us that the leaders and groups who reviled Ellsberg as a snitch and traitor were themselves engineering a massive and sustained deception of the American public. Whistleblowers are not merely angry iconoclasts swimming against the tide, they alert us to massive lies being sold to the larger community.
Forty years after Ellsberg went public, corporate and governmental whistleblowers continue to be despised, reviled, and ignored for their efforts, just as those who tried to sound the alarm about credit default swaps and the Iraq War were silenced by Wall Street and Washington. So show this story to your children at bedtime.
This article appeared in the November 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 11, page 42).