The Post Is a Sharply Written and Well-Acted Ode to Honest Journalism, Albeit a Dishonest One
Upon exiting the theater, I couldn’t help but reflect on the increasingly alarming times we find ourselves living in. Far preceding Donald Trump’s presidency which this film so obviously parallels, the Constitution’s reduction to cheap toilet paper for the powers that be has already been taking effect. We’ve seen poison being approved by the FDA, crooked law enforcers getting away with murder, unconstitutional snooping by the NSA, and psychopathic warmongers in top government positions escaping justice. A contemporary verity that remained adhered within my skull as I watched The Post, is the demise of diligent mainstream journalism like the kind portrayed in the film. We now live in a world where parroting the State Department’s war propaganda is considered quality reporting, while outlets daring to provide an alternative perspective are treated as spies and subject to censorship. George Orwell must be rolling in his grave as we speak.
In the summer of 1971, The Washington Post, a then-local publication owned by Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), is on the verge of going public. The editor in chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is aggravated at the likelihood of losing out on a groundbreaking exposé by The New York Times. Those two storylines intertwine when the Times starts publishing excerpts from stolen confidential government documents known as the Pentagon Papers – the contents of which reveal a history of US intrusion in Vietnamese affairs, as well as lies propagated to the American people by LBJ and Nixon’s administrations about US exploits in Vietnam and the prospects of victory. With an injunction by the Nixon administration blocking the Times from publishing further documents, The Post tracks down the leaker and obtains a motherload. Hard deliberations about publishing them ensue as doing so would mean an indictment under the Espionage Act and in turn a rollback of the Post’s IPO.
The Post’s moral about the importance of press freedom and fortification of the Constitution’s 1st Amendment is undoubtedly derivative. But besides Spielberg’s confident direction and strong performances by the talented cast, Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s script is engrossing and scrutinizes notable ideas such as media relations with higher authority and the press as a business. As denoted by Graham’s contentious conversations with Bradlee, allegiances are put to the test by the prospect of publishing the Papers. As the owner of The Washington Post, Katharine Graham shares an intimate friendship with Robert McNamara, the Department of Defense Secretary who actually commissioned the Pentagon Papers and escalated the war knowing it was an unwinnable battle. Ben Bradlee, himself a former comrade of JFK, has also done his fair share of associating with powerful figures but is revolted by the obscene extent of brazen dishonesties exposed by those documents.
The business aspect puts viewers in the shoes of Graham as she congregates with investors and attorneys in charge of the company’s initial public offering. A subsection of The Post’s contract gives investors the right to rescind their deal in the wake of a company disaster within the week. A quandary emerges for Graham as publishing the incriminating Pentagon Papers following a government injunction would render her a convicted felon. Since felons are forbidden from broadcast licensure, the Washington Post would lose revenue-generating TV stations. Graham fervently asserts to a horde of businessmen surrounding her that quality journalism and profitability conform with each other. This particular scene had me raising an eyebrow and reflecting on the inaccuracy of that statement in the present day. Jon Shwarz, writing for The Intercept, notes that impactful journalism holding institutions of power accountable for their misdeeds is the antithesis of profitability. It’s time-consuming, costly, and unattractive to advertisers. Not only that, those in possession of wealth and power will take legal action and run you out of business if you lose, and simply drain your monetary resources even if you triumph because legal costs are colossally expensive.
I think it’ll be a cold day in hell before the likes of Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep deliver a performance that is even microscopically short of immaculate. As the ambitious editor of the Washington Post, Tom Hanks exhibits a charismatic mutinous charm – his restive tenacity and dedication to high ideals molded by a weary acceptance of the world’s unpleasant nature: a place ridden with grand injustices that deserve unfiltered exposure to the public. Meryl Streep unsurprisingly brings it home. Katharine Graham undergoes a smooth metamorphosis from apprehensive and hesitant to a self-assured woman in her position. In one particular scene where Graham must make the most crucial of decisions, her subtle facial expressions impeccably demonstrate a lifespan of indecision and apprehension. Meryl Steep’s interplay with Tom Hanks is especially noteworthy. As Owen Gleiberman of Variety Magazine notes, Graham and Bradlee both strongly aspire to make history and elevate the Washington Post’s status as a news publication but have conflicting opinions on how to accomplish that goal. Those characters are on the same side but their amity is compellingly quarrelsome.
Solidly written, crisply directed, and impeccably acted as The Post is, it most certainly does not reinstate my faith in the mainstream media. What I’ve learned following a few years of extensive research and observing human behavior during eye-rolling political arguments is the following: Regardless of the President’s political party, detrimental domestic and foreign policy remains triumphant because both parties are puppets of the establishment. The government fears an informed and united populace and does everything in its power to ensure division, confusion, and blissful ignorance, most notably through the false “left vs. right" paradigm. Establishment media outlets on both ends of the political spectrum do their part in perpetuating division and ignorance by feeding their loyalists half-truths mixed with lies in order to keep them pointing fingers at each other for everything that’s wrong with this world. Given Hollywood’s cozy relationship with the CIA, I wholeheartedly believe that it also partakes in this divisive paradigm. From a realistic perspective, The Post is nothing more than damage control for elite-run corporate press seeing how the American people’s trust in their media is currently at an all-time low. Keep the late journalistic guru Robert Parry in mind, he went after Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal and was deliberately ignored by Katharine Graham whom this film so vigorously glorifies. But if you can look past all the artistic license-taking and crooked agendas, The Post’s agreeable message and brilliant portrayal of assiduous journalism should inspire people to strive for the truth and nothing but. In this day and age of technological advancement where information is accessible at our fingertips with the push of a button, ignorance is a choice.
My score: 8/10
© 2018 Rami Nawfal