When Steven Spielberg has an opinion about the value of a free press in America, he doesn’t just make a Facebook or Twitter post like the rest of us. Instead, he reaches back into history and makes a movie like The Post.
The Post is set against the backdrop of a time when the government tried to hide from the people the disastrous results of years of failing Vietnam policies. Meanwhile, we kept sending more soldiers to Southeast Asia to die in a war we couldn’t win.
Those were dangerous times, with a President in power who disdained and tried to control the press to serve his own ends. When Nixon’s government obtained an injunction ordering the New York Times to cease publication of the Pentagon Papers, the Washington Post obtained the documents and had a big decision to make — whether to publish. The consequences of a wrong call could range from financial ruin to imprisonment.
Even though we know the outcome of this movie at the start, it’s a good story. Not a thriller — but an examination of themes of power, responsibility, and courage, illuminated through the eyes of some contentious newspeople and attorneys, as well as a socialite turned champion of investigative journalism.
The movie is also a wonderful story of Katharine Graham, who inherited her position at the Washington Post after the death of her husband, and how she began to exercise her leadership in a world ruled by men. Spielberg embraces the feminist aspect of this story.
Tom Hanks does his usual good job as executive editor Ben Bradlee. Meryl Streep is excellent in the perfect-for-her role of Katharine Graham. The movie is full of lots of interesting characters, as well as a needed touch of humor here and there. It’s full of cool details from the past, showing how reporters did their jobs in the days before the Internet or cell phones. And there are fascinating touches, such as the rumbling of the newsroom when the big presses started up in the basement of the Washington Post’s building.
This movie made for an enjoyable couple of hours. And a reminder — that without the legitimate free press we’re at the mercy of those in power to control what we know. And maybe more than ever today, when anyone with an Internet connection can publish, that makes the responsible press the advocate of the people.
Here’s more information about Katharine Graham at this article at The Smithsonian magazine.
Also a wonderful Washington Post article about the closing of their historic building in 2015, with some history and stories about the old days of the newspaper business there.
Here’s some more info about the movie on IMDb.