In a world today where some of the core values and the general purpose of journalism has been pushed to the forefront of the public’s scrutiny, it isn’t easy to objectively look at one of the biggest journalism breakthroughs in modern history.
Not only does “The Post” accomplish exactly that but it does so in a way that addresses issues like the feminist awakening of the late 20th century along with what it means to be a journalist and the importance of the role they play in government accountability.
The film focuses on The Washington Post’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971 showing the government’s corruption regarding Vietnam and the war decades before the U.S. even deployed troops.
It follows the paper’s new owner Katharine Graham, played by Meryl Streep, who took over the position after the death of her husband and father both of whom co-ran the paper. She is preparing to take the paper public in the stock market to ensure its financial stability.
The film does a good job of reminding the audience that while the Washington Post is one of the main powerhouses among today’s publications, in the early 1970s it was struggling to establish itself even on a local level. One of the ways they do this is beginning the film with editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee struggling to get pictures of Nixon’s daughter’s wedding while the New York Times gets the first scoop on the Pentagon Papers.
Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks, is frustrated by the Times’ inability get the scoop on stories that truly matter and when an injunction halts the leaks from New York, he sends his reporters on a mission to find them.
What ensues is not only a suspenseful and fascinating look at journalists in practice but also shows the lengths they will go to in order to get the story. The reporter who eventually tracks down the papers in their entirety, Ben Bagdikian who is played by ‘Better Call Saul’ star Bob Odenkirk, spent hours on the phone and dealing with the secrecy of talking with one of the biggest government leakers ever.
In today’s world, it is easy to imagine tracking someone down even if they don’t want to be given all of the technology available to us but “The Post” does an excellent job of showing it wasn’t always this way and the amount of work the reporter’s put into exposing this corruption was monumental.
The latter half of the film is where the film juggles the themes of personal risks journalists take for the truth, the role of a woman in power in a time when no one wanted to see exactly that and overcoming a corrupt government at the risk of personal sacrifice.
Bradlee and his team of reporters spend hours digging through the papers and piecing it together like a puzzle while the paper’s lawyers constantly hound him and Graham about the dangers of publishing it. Graham is also feeling pressure from her board and advisers as publishing could mean the tanking of its stock prices just days before they are meant to go public.
The business side of journalism and the editorial side is a battle that is still waged in newsrooms today so seeing the beginning of those battles was an interesting angle that some movies would’ve strayed away from for the sake of time. “The Post” instead faces it head on to add onto the personal risk the people in charge like Graham took along with jail time to publish the truth.
An overlooked fact on the publishing of the papers by the paper is the shift newspapers had from their early 20th-century role of cozying up with politicians as publishers and senators went to dinner together and were friends. Instead, the 1970s marked a shift toward hard-hitting journalism where papers kept our representatives accountable for what they did.
It is an interesting point brought up as papers are largely seen as that now and it is easy to forget that the specific role of watchdog is still relatively new in terms of U.S. history. All of these complex topics are topped off with the fact that it is the first female publisher of a major American newspaper making these calls.
Graham was thrust into a situation that was impossible for anyone to fully comprehend or understand but Streep’s portrayal of the internal struggle makes the viewer understand the pain that being torn in two different directions. She has to decide between financial success or editorial responsibility, friends or the truth and jail time or silence. None are easy answers, especially for a paper.
“The Post” is a film that keeps up a fast pace throughout its two-hour runtime that never exhausts its audience because of its ability to keep said suspense going while seamlessly addressing multiple issues. Ultimately, it looks at the role of media in the United States and its importance in holding those accountable and how that role can come at potential great personal risk for those who take that role.