In this current era of fake news, wild accusations and political bluster, “The Post” is a timely docudrama. This rare glimpse of logic and reason should be required viewing for all civics classes and those who care more about the Constitution than political echo chambers. It’s even better learning a lesson being entertained rather than lectured.
Director Steven Spielberg knows how to tell a story with passion and a sense of urgency. Like it or not, in the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave a free press the protection it must have to fulfill an essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. “We the people” actually has meaning.
This period piece is based on actual events during the Vietnam War. It is a story of investigative journalism at its finest. Meryl Streep, as Publisher Katherine Graham, and Tom Hanks as Executive Editor of The Washington Post, lend their impressive talents to this history lesson told as a dramatic espionage thriller. These journalists faced the wrath of the White House, imprisonment from the Supreme Court and potential bankruptcy.
Despite the view of certain talking heads, then and now, this case was not an attack on any political party or the presidency. The case was to disclose truths that directly impacted the lives of an unwitting American public. Evidently, American military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) discovered a classified U.S. report charting deliberate misconceptions about the progress, or lack thereof, of the Vietnam War.
The objective of the “perpetual lie” was to spare our leaders the humiliation of being the first Americans to lose a war. The price of secrecy was for countless young men to die each day on a foreign soil. Printing the report could jeopardize American sentiment on the war. The premise is politicians should be held accountable for their decisions.
At that time, The Washington Post was a local newspaper covering national politicians in Washington D.C. Reporters protected their political friends from scandal. The vindictive Nixon White House frowned on “treasonous” reporters who did not do their bidding. Graham was a rare woman executive in a man’s world of business and politics. Streep plays Graham as a cautious, naïve administrator growing into a strong, principled national publisher.
Bradlee was a “take no prisoners” kind of veteran editor. He relished the challenge against all odds, partly for the principle and partly just for the fight. When Graham asks him to bring her up to speed on their deliberations, Bradlee gruffly states, “He says we can’t, I say we can. There, you’re caught up!”
Ellsberg illegally copied thousands of classified documents while executives from the Times and Post faced prison sentences if printed. Bradlee asks, “So, can I ask you a hypothetical question?” Graham responds, “Oh dear. I don’t like hypothetical questions.” Bradlee says, “Well, I don’t think you’re gonna like the real one either.
Writers Liz Hannah and Josh Singer create some snappy dialog while John Williams provides another dynamic score. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks do what they do best, but the energetic ensemble cast includes, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Carrie Coon, Bob Odenkirk and Jesse Plemons.
“The Post” is 116 minutes and rated PG-13 for language and brief war violence. To maintain authenticity, scenes of President Nixon on the phone in the Oval Office feature Nixon’s actual voice from the White House tapes. Also, the original Pentagon Papers were used as props, including those scattered on the floor of Bradlee’s home.
After this arduous ordeal, Meryl Streep ad-libs the final line for Katherine Graham, “Glad I never have to go through this again.” Yet, the final scene shows the Watergate break-in taking place, which is the opening scene of “All the President’s Men.” You might remember a couple Post reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, took a look into that matter. As they say, the rest is history.
Ron’s Rating: A-
Leigh’s Rating: A-