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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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January 03, 2005

The heroic Mr. Hughes

“The Aviator,” the new Howard Hughes movie, is more than a story about a flamboyant tycoon, or a man going nuts. It contains a fine story of business and politics. As a former business reporter, and a fan of competitive markets, I particularly appreciated the business story -- though I haven’t verified how accurate it is.

As told by the movie, the fight between Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) of Trans World Airlines and Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin) of Pan Am was really a fight over a government-sponsored monopoly. At the dawn of commercial aviation across the Atlantic, Trippe was pushing a bill in Congress that would have made Pan Am the sole U.S.-flag carrier. To sponsor the bill, Trippe recruited a senator from Maine, Owen Brewster (played at his smarmy best by Alan Alda).

It was just after World War II, and in a Congressional hearing, Brewster denounced Hughes as a war profiteer. Hughes ably defended himself and attacked Brewster as the poodle of Pan Am.

For years, Hollywood monotonously portrayed big businessmen as baddies, which was probably because so many screenwriters were left-wingers. But in this pic Hughes, for all his quirks and eccentricities, is fighting for good things --good movies, good technology, and an aviation industry open to competition.

I never knew Hughes had fought against a state monopoly in commercial aviation, and I respect him for it.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at January 3, 2005 03:45 PM



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