Editor Ben Bradlee at the Washington Post, the man behind the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers during the Nixon administration, is quoted as saying, “The only way to assert the right to publish is to publish.” So that’s what he and his publisher did.
As a movie, The Post focuses more on Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), the publisher of a nationally respected newspaper and the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, than on the editor who hunted down the papers received by Neil Sheehan, the New York Times investigative reporter who first broke the story before President Richard Nixon tried to stop the presses.
Although many of Nixon’s lines in the movie are reminiscent of some of President Donald Trump’s efforts to complain about reporters and call them “fake,” the most memorable fact about the Vietnam War showcased was that the secret papers revealed how much four administrations knew the war was unwinnable but sent troops into harm’s way nonetheless.
The thousands of documents detailed a historical research study, as opposed to plans for future troop movements—which would have been illegal to publish. The papers showed the motivation our government put behind the war effort: 10 percent of the war was fought to help the people of Vietnam, 20 percent to contain Communist China, and a full 70 percent to save face, or so the US wouldn’t look to the rest of the world like a weak link in the world order.
Not only does that remind me of Mr Trump’s “America First” motto, but the need to silence a free and independent press, an idea shot down 6-3 by the Supreme Court of the United States as a result of this case, was so important to Nixon and members of his administration that they even kept Washington Post reporters away from a Nixon family wedding around the time the Pentagon Papers were published.
- The opinion of the Supreme Court: New York Times Co. v. U.S. (June 30, 1971)
Many people in Ms Graham’s time did question her ability to play in the billionaire boys’ club, but she rose above those sexist detractors to make one of the most influential and freedom-inspiring decisions a newspaper publisher has ever made.
Ms Streep and Tom Hanks, who plays Mr Bradlee in the movie, have five Academy Awards and a dozen Golden Globes between them, and most reviewers overwhelmingly thought the movie was of high quality, regardless of their politics.
On wide release in US theaters, January 12, The Post is written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer and directed by Steven Spielberg. It’s rated PG-13 for a few F-words and has a runtime of 1 hour 55 minutes. We saw the movie on December 23 in Washington, DC. Stars include Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, and Tracy Letts.
We review movies in order to support Illinois Learning Standards in the fine arts, especially 26.A.4b (Understand how the primary tools, support tools and creative processes—researching, auditioning, designing, directing, rehearsing, refining, presenting—interact and shape drama, theater and film production), 26.A.5 (Analyze and evaluate how the choice of media, tools, technologies and processes support and influence the communication of ideas), and 27.B.5 (Analyze how the arts shape and reflect ideas, issues or themes in a particular culture or historical period), among others.