This film follows a cinematic trail in which newspapers are the focal point of the narrative. Over the years they have been entertaining, dramatic, and gutsy in recreating real life events for the cameras. Some films have been acerbically humorous (the comedic business and throw-away lines of “The Front Page” 1931 and1974). Others offer scathing assessments of serious issues. “Spotlight” (2015) exposes the Catholic Church Boston Diocese sex scandal, and in “All The President’s Men” (1976) the Presidential link to the Watergate affair.
“The Post” sheds light on the White House Vietnam war coverup. Three Hollywood heavies unite their talents to bring this controversial subject to the big screen bijou. Steven Spielberg directs Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in a taut opus which testifies to the drama that divided Americans over four decades ago. One could draw comparisons to similarities in the Trump era.
In the summer of 1971, the Washington Post faces a historic dilemma: whether or not to publish the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret document (7,000 pages) that reveals the U.S. government knew for decades the Vietnam War was unwinnable. The papers itemize the lies told to the American people about U.S. involvement in Indochina dating back to 1945 (most revealing is the fact that U.S. leaders knew the war was a losing battle). Executive editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) debate the best course of action regarding printing the incriminating information that was being withheld from the media on the grounds that it would do injury to national security.
The Post is a powerful story about the importance of journalism. Though events played out many years ago the narrative is very current in a time of social media, the “#Metoo” movement, the obstructions women face in the corporate world, and newspapers accused of printing “fake news”. Spielberg’s film moralizes about the drama within as Katharine “Kay” Graham struggles to raise her publication to national prominence on a par with the New York Times following the suicide of her husband, who had been given control of the paper by Katharine’s late father.
Graham gets an opportunity when the Times, jumping ahead of the Post in publishing the prized Pentagon Papers, hits a roadblock when President Nixon obtains a court ordered ban on further media coverage. At that time, Graham was negotiating for funding to take the paper public on the stock exchange. She is cautious about printing the controversial information in order to appease the bank, but her executive editor Ben Bradlee is a news guy and believes it’s his duty to publish, even if it means breaking the law. The odds seemed insurmountable, and though the paper’s team of lawyers opposed the move, Graham and Bradlee took the risk. It was a giant step gambling with the prestige of the Post and their own careers, but they were concerned the political integrity of the country was in jeopardy.
The movie’s message, quoting the Supreme Court rulings at that time in American history, declared the protection the U.S. Constitution provides was listed under the First Amendment. It is the media’s right to express themselves, though news reporting should be honest (truthful), objective (fair-unbiased), has relevance to current legal and social issues and not used to influence political decisions. On the other hand, it is the responsibility of each person to distinquish between “fake news” and dignified journalism which is especially topical now. It brings to mind an observation by George Orwell: “Freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose”.
The always reliable Meryl Streep fits easily into the role of a female fighting hard to be heard in a male dominated realm. The newspaper atmosphere is rough, fast and heartless. Even as the corporate boss, she has to fight for respect and acceptance from “the guys” who are quick to dismiss her perspective on print news gathering and presentation. Streep plays Graham with a vulnerability as well as grit and an iron willed determination in allowing readers of The Post to feast on the controversial documents.
Tom Hanks shows Bradlee with a sense of idealism, perseverance of purpose and just good old fashioned sound judgement. His declaration, “We cannot let the administration dictate what we can and cannot print”.
The Post plays as a history lesson, and in this news conscious time solid journalism seems to be taking a back seat to frivolous celebrity scandals and tabloid style fake news articles. Steven Spielberg shows the true power of the printed word in holding power brokers and governments to account. Back in the day, newspapers were sold on the streets by youngsters shouting “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” With The Post it’s “See all about It”. The film should have wide intelligent audience appeal.