Freedom of the Press
Recently saw Steven Spielberg’s “The Post.”
Brought back a lot of memories of those hectic days, especially the lies so many Presidents told Americans about the Vietnam War.
Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon. They were all in on it.
We need to be reminded that it was the press which took risks in revealing those lies. And it was the solidarity of the newspapers that challenged the government’s age old threat of “national security.”
First it was “The New York Times.” Then “the Washington Post,” the central subject of this film. Then, other papers chose to reveal what US governments had hid from Americans for years—that the Vietnam War was not only a disaster but unwinnable.
What started out as a military engagement to stop the domino effect of Communism in Southeast Asia ended up being a war to save face, all at the expense of tens of thousands of American soldiers.
The central focus of the film, “The Post” is about the huge pressure “The Washington Post” was under in publishing top secret information, the infamous Pentagon Papers, about the Vietnam War.
In the real time of the film, “The Post” is family-owned paper. After its owner suddenly dies, his wife, the famous Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), decides to go public with the newspaper.
When her editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), has a chance to secretly obtain the same top-secret information about the war that the “New York Times” has, Graham is caught in a multilayered psychological battle—she is a woman in a totally man’s world of journalism and business; she has never really had to make any major business or editorial decisions; she is personal friends of Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense; she abhors conflict; she does not have an assertive personality.
The “New York Times” was already under a court injunction not to publish the material. Because the “Post” had the same source, it, too, would run the risk of a court injunction.
Streep’s portrayal of Graham makes her an easy target for Bradlee, who, as Hanks plays him, has the investigative journalist’s fire-in-the-belly to publish the top-secret information. He does mellow and expresses his sympathy to her over the pressure she is under.
Throughout most of the film, Graham is a passive owner and eventual controlling stockholder of the newspaper. She has never had any kind of business administrative responsibility, having played the role of bourgeois housewife, mother, and societal party-gatherer and dinner arranger.
The climactic moment in the film happens when she decides to risk everything and print the Pentagon Papers. In solidarity with the Post, several US papers also publish the papers. From a dramatic point of view, Graham now comes into her own as a confident newspaper magnate and administrator.
More importantly, Katherine Graham and her editor, Ben Bradlee, end up being on the right side of history in risking their careers and the newspaper to defend the freedom of the press.
The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 vote, decides in favor of the Post. The rest is history.