We live in a world dominated by the 24-hour news cycle. Any time of the day or night it is possible to click a mouse or touch the screen of your phone to be connected to news from around the world. Running the gamut from global events to events occurring in your local neighborhood, news services are readily to keep the interested citizen apprised of all the information anyone could possible need. Web sites such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News presents breaking news often in real time complete with video and expert commentary. There are those of the Baby boomer generation that can still remember when all aspects of news were drastically different. A few decades might seem to be ancient history, particularly with the younger contingent, but in the scheme of things it is a mere blip in the timeline of this nation, back then news came into American homes with radio broadcasts, frequently interrupting scheduled programming with special bulletins. While that source provided headlines and an overview of important occurrences but the mainstay of this function critical to freedom, liberty and justice remained the print media, newspapers. The best reporters in the world were attached to newspapers that earned stellar reputations as the bastions of journalistic integrity. Shadily. Much of the population have shifted their reliance to the growing proliferation of web and cable sources, eclipsing newspapers as the official source of record. Coming from an era that revered the power of newsprint. The feel of the paper as you read through the pages imbued a special sense of reality that is not present in staring at a screen. It is important to understand the critical role the newspapers held in our society and, most importantly, sustaining the values at its foundation. There is a reason that freedom of speech and the protection of a free and independent press were chosen to be the First amendment in the Bill of Rights. It is also vital to understanding thr the film considered here, ‘The Post’.
The core of the story is set in 1971 during the height of the United States involvement in the Vietnam war. Although newspapers were still the dominant means of disseminating news, the paradigm was shifting to large, national newspapers eclipsing the great, family owned papers of the previous generations. One of that category was The Washington Post. At the opening of the movie the paper was owned by Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), daughter of one co-owner, recently widowed from his partner, Phil Graham. Mrs. Graham had been prepared for the usual function of very wealthy women, a socialite. Women’s liberation had barely begun, entwined with the peak in social activism driven by the Civil Rights movement and the rapidly escalating protest the war that consolidated the youthful generation. As a mater of full disclosure, that was the year I graduated high school and received a low number in the military draft lottery. A placing of 53 out of 365 was almost certainly a ticket to South East Asia. The events depicted in this film were current events for us and a critical juncture in our lives. Those of us residing in New York City followed the progress of this historic events daily through the other major newspaper deeply involved with these events, The New York Times. Did my best to be objected while watching this movie but it is tantamount to impossible not to be swayed by such vivid memories.
Military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), was part of the highly successful think tank, the Rand Corporation. In 1966 he was embedded in a combat unit to investigate America’s involvement in the igniting powder keg of Vietnam. On his way back home to the States he discussed his experience an preliminary assessment with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), informing him that the situation was hopeless, doomed fail no matter what steps our country would make. Upon landing Ellsberg watched in disbelief as the Secretary, smile on his face, tells the reporters the situation in Vietnam is better than expected, he has every confidence in the war effort will soon lead to a victory. Ellsberg had pride in his work, certain that it would help guide decisions critical to the safety of his countrymen. In fact, that scholarly analysis was casually tossed aside, in the wake of propaganda. After soul-searching deliberation Ellsberg took it upon himself to bring the unvarnished truth about his scholarly findings. The security at the RAND corporation was minimal allowing Ellsberg to systematically sneak the voluminous report out, several sections at a time to be photocopied and surreptitiously returned. This report would come to be known as ‘The Pentagon Papers’, and for those of us with a draft card in our wallets and a life expectancy decided by an arbitrary, government lottery, this was an act of rebellion enacted by the older generation. Newspapers that have been a part of the establishment and now they were exposing secrets about the war many of us would become unwillingly involved. To watch a movie from a a-List director, Steven Spielberg, featuring a cast that included a pair of the most talented and well-regarded actors, Meryl Streep and Tom Hank, a significant part of our lives has been validated, more than that, a film of this stature justified the darkness we endured.
After the New York Times published the first articles revealing the long-buried truth the war protesters wow emboldened by the disclosures we knew that our cause was just with a scope beyond unfair military induction. The contents of the Papers proved the Federal Government knew that a war in Vietnam was intrinsically unwinnable as far back as the Truman administration. When the Times was ordered to cease publication Mrs. Graham demonstrated the journalistic integrity and conviction to continue the story. This was made possible when Post assistant editor Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) tracks down Ellsberg and convinces him to provide a substantial portion of the report. Thousands of pages were obtained but unfortunately, they were out of order and unnumbered, for anyone born after the computer revolution, dealing with hard copies required an incredible amount of tedious work, x=collating and analyzing them was made worse by a deadline looming days away. As expected, both Ms. Streep and Mr. hanks embody their roles with a finely nuanced performance. Mrs. Graham was forced to make decisions that would be construed as treason. The paper had been run for years by the family but the pressures of a changing business model for newspapers forced them to seek financing through a public stock offering,
There is a clause in the offering that stipulates if anything occurs that creates a scandal or otherwise discredits the reputation of the paper immediately negates the contract immediately cancelling the offering placing the paper in terminal financial straits.
The moral dilemma that ensnares the matron od society is unlike anything her experiences had prepared her to handle.it requires an actress of superior talent and experience. The nuances she instills in her interpretation of a real person creates a sense of realism that carries the belief of the audience. This was not a solo showcase, this is a ensemble effort. Naturally, having Tom Hanks in the male lead of Ben Bradlee, the executive editor of the Washington Post reinforced the emotional strength and psychological resilience Mrs. Graham discovered within herself. While the tough decisions fell upon Mrs. Graham, it was Bradlee who held the responsibility to bring them to fruition in the real world. He faced the deadlines always looming for print media and was on the front line standing against Federal agents ordered to stop his work. Together these greatest practitioners of their craft create a synergy that is a thing of beauty to experience. Their characters are two entirely different people, but united in purpose by a common love of the Washington Post and driven to bring truth to its readers.
Besides its obvious place in American history, the people and events depicted in this film have gained a special significance in the current socio-political environment. With the highest members of the government and their official representatives have openly denounced the free press going to the absurd level of referring to their investigations and reporting as ‘fake’ and denouncing the institution as ‘the enemy of the State’ if they dare have coverage cast the official in a negative light. Among the myriad of crucial points made in this movie one of the most important comes at the end of the story. The prohibition on publishing the Pentagon Papers quickly made it to the Supreme Court. The decision favored the newspapers. The majority opinion continues to echo through history standing firm against the current government’s derision of the First Amendment.
"In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors."