“I’ve always wanted to be part of a small rebellion.”
Steven Spielberg’s The Post wants to have been released in a different era from the look of it. From the film stock to the staging of the actors it’s a classic Spielberg movie. It could have been released in ’84 and I’m not sure I could have known. But thank god he released it now.
In a time when journalists are being physically attacked by elected officials, sent death threats over social media and called snakes and fake news by the President – the press, ironically, could use some good press. And that’s what The Post does best – it’s not a glorification of the backroom workings of the Washington Post, like say All the Presidents Men was (nothing against that film) but it shows that journalists and editors are just a greedy about getting one over on their competitors as the next profession would be. BUT at least in this case, they’re doing their due diligence.
The Post follows the once not-as-mighty Washington Post getting their hands on the Pentagon Papers, but only after the NY Times has already published their first stories on the documents. What complicates things – making this story more than just another Spotlight style journalist love-fest is the fact that the paper is going through financial restructuring and becoming a public company.
Shamefully, I didn’t know much of the story of the Washington Post’s publishing of the Pentagon Papers. I’ve read quite a bit about the NY Times fight but had heard little about this one, until the the promotion around this film started. We all know how the story ends – the Papers are published and while it doesn’t lead to the end of the Nixon Presidency, it does eventually lead to the end of the Vietnam War. The Post does something more compelling than make a narrative film about known history, it delves into the behind the scenes decision making that led to the Washington Post publishing the Papers. But it does this with a risky twist that takes the story out of the reporters (for the most part) and into the hands of the editors and publishers. There’s little of the Woodward and Bernstein-esque fight to publish more and immediately as there was in All the Presidents Men – the editor, the great Ben Bradlee is leading the charge. Actually, not just leading, he’s reveling in it.
The Post does a lot in under two hours but in deciding to take on a small portion of a story that went on at the same time as one of journalism’s biggest stories Spielberg allows himself to cover a lot of other ground. While all this was happening the Washington Post was in the process of being a public company, the paper was still settling into the idea of its first female publisher, and almost the most important thread of all – the moment in American journalism where reporters start considering the problems with ‘access journalism.’
Throughout the struggle of deciding whether to print the papers both the paper’s publisher, Katherine Graham and the editor Ben Bradlee spar on the idea of access journalism. They don’t call it that – but that’s what many of the arguments over publishing or not publishing are about. Bradlee was chummy with the Kennedy’s and Graham is currently close friends with Robert McNamara, the man who called for the Pentagon Papers to be written. Graham worries not only about losing a close friend but burning the connections that they have. Earlier in the picture there’s a running discussion about how Nixon has shut off access to his family to the Post’s style section due to one of their reporters crashing the reception.
The fear is justified though in the Nixon era. The Post uses Nixon’s own words and voice via his own Oval office recordings – telling his people that no one from the Washington Post will ever be allowed in the White House again.
The Post likely could not have come out in a more important moment. Even in the Bush Presidency you didn’t have the Nixonian level of threat against that press that we have now. Not that Bush/Cheney weren’t terrifying for the integrity of the press – but unlike now, you don’t have the adversarial nature that the main stream media has.
Long story short. Go see it – you care about the importance of the press. Go see it if you just enjoy classic Spielberg films.