Reviewed by: Jim O'Neill
What is LYING? Answer
What is TRUTH? Answer
What is good journalism in a free democracy?
The Washington Post newspaper—then and now
The newspaper was sold in 2013 to billionaire Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon.com) by the Graham family that had long controlled the paper. Bezos is apparently a Libertarian Democrat who primarily supports Democratic Party candidates and is a major backer of Gay marriage.
Meryl Streep … Kay Graham
Tom Hanks … Ben Bradlee
Sarah Paulson … Tony Bradlee
Bob Odenkirk … Ben Bagdikian
Tracy Letts … Fritz Beebe
Bradley Whitford … Arthur Parsons
Bruce Greenwood … Robert McNamara
Matthew Rhys … Daniel Ellsberg
Alison Brie … Lally Graham
Carrie Coon … Meg Greenfield
Jesse Plemons … Roger Clark
See all »
See all »
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Steven Spielberg’s “The Post,” about The Washington Post’s struggle to publish the controversial Pentagon Papers, is a formulaic, and sometimes gripping, press-room procedural. It glides over the actual history of the Pentagon Papers, how they were pilfered by Rand Corporation analyst Daniel Ellsberg, leaked to The New York Times and, when ultimately published, fomented widespread anti-government sentiment whose residue still lingers today.
Some might say the struggle between the press and The White House that plays out on the screen has corollaries to today’s events. That’s a bit of a stretch; it’s reading too much into this “topical” drama that has nothing new to say about the events of 1971, or for that matter, today.
“The Post” is not the cinematic milestone that so many critics are lauding it to be. Remember, those critics are journalists themselves, and, more importantly, they are liberal secularists. In the same way skiers love “Downhill Racer” and baseball players love “Bull Durham,” news people are sure to take to Spielberg’s melodrama the way movie moguls take to starlets. Journalists vehemently defend their profession, and use that profession to spit fire at their enemies. They always have a bete-noir who they use for a dartboard, and the target is almost always a member of one political party. And since Spielberg’s movie takes place in the early seventies, who better than Richard Nixon to be both bad guy and harbinger of even worse things to come?
The filmmakers have served up some gratifying entertainment, but because their movie has the air of a crusade, they need to be held to account for leaving important key points out of their polemic. For a film purporting to honor the First Amendment and the public’s right to know, its makers keep their public in the dark about several key elements of the Pentagon Papers history.
For instance, did Nixon take us into the war in Vietnam? No. Was Nixon implicated in any of the Pentagon Papers? No. Those Papers did reveal some unsavory facts about some of the Left’s favorite figures: John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and defense secretary Robert McNamara.
By trying to stop the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Nixon was not protecting himself. That was something he was never good at. He was trying to protect classified government and military information which, if released, could jeopardize negotiations that were taking place at the time between the U.S. and the Vietnamese. Yes, the public has a right to know what its government does and the press has a right, and a duty, to report those deeds. On the other hand, there is as much nuance in these conflicts as there is principle, and nuance is something Spielberg has never had a handle on. He tends to pick a side, and then stolidly carry the water for that side.
At the end of any dispute, it always comes down to what is the right choice to make, and I concede that the editor and publisher of The Washington Post made the right choice to publish the Pentagon Papers. However, that decision was not without a downside. Spielberg owes his viewers at least a glimpse of that other side. By not doing so, he cheats his audience, and his own work.
Meryl Streep tones down her usual ostentatious acting style (I find most of her recent performances overbearing and uncentered) to give a vivid portrait of a woman who struggles through each decision she is asked to make. Burdened by grief (over her husband’s suicide) and doubt (she took over ownership and publishing duties at the paper right after her husband’s death), Graham boldly took a risk and put everything on the line: her business, her reputation, her self. In the end, she might not have been sure—who ever is?—but she did what she thought was right. Hers was a quiet heroism, not the phony kind exemplified by wearing black couture to an awards show.
What a shame that Tom Hanks’ performance is no match for Streep’s. His is a far cry from Jason Robard’s portrayal of Post Editor Ben Bradlee in the 1976 film, “All the President’s Men.” Robards gave a freewheeling edge to Bradlee’s crustiness, making him, if not an ideal boss, at least a stimulating one—no doubt a pleasure to work for. But there is no pleasure to be found in Hanks’ performance. His Bradlee is leaden and grim, tying the performance in knots by trying to sound coarse and gruff. He comes off sounding like someone who has a potato caught in his throat.
Publishing the Pentagon Papers, which detailed the discrepancies between what officials said publicly and what they said in private, was the start of a decline in the public’s trust in its elected officials. Today, the executive and legislative branches of the government have record low approval ratings. The only institution that the public trusts even less is the press.
Will “The Post” help to restore the reputation of newspapers and the media in general? I doubt it. The movie lacks the clarity, the honesty and the fairness to do so, much like the media it tries so hard to elevate.
Perhaps if the press corp and the film industry heeded the one true source that speaks clearly of the Good News meant for all people, they might have a better shot.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.