I once wrote a long and rambly New Yorker style essay on the impending collapse of print journalism as an industry. And now that much of it has come to pass, with Time Magazine shut down and, on the local front, even a major digital media property like Interaksyon is on its death bed, I feel nothing but sorrow at my prescience.
The Post is sa political thriller that I needed to watch right now. It is that rare movie that is a hurrah and homage to the profession. It also comes at a time—and director Steven Spielberg, genius that he is, knows that timing is half the battle—when the values and foundations of journalism are under siege.
But the virtuosity of Spielberg and Co doesn’t stop there. Even without the connection to Trump, our own president, and the attacks on CNN and other media outfits, The Post is a remarkably entertaining story that stands well on its own..
Has old style journalism become irrelevant? Used to be, society was indebted to journalism and required its practitioners to take people who wanted to be informed through the difficulties of comprehending a complex issue. Now the 4th estate no longer has that monopoly and, as far as I can tell, it is still smarting from the phenomenon of decentralized power, like a pugilist reeling from a Zuckerberg uppercut.
But the thing is, the prevalence of social media and the handing over of access to the people has not increased their ability to filter or vet information at all.
To answer, The Post shouts back an empathic “No!” and proceeds to draw easy parallels between dogged reporters and editors, and a government that has everything to hide—that indeed has taken pains to execute a massive cover-up of government secrets that has spanned four U.S. Presidents.
With the kind of pacing and insider moments that make you want to be back on the beat, this drama about the unlikely partnership of Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female publisher of The Washington Post, and its driven editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), give us the kind of mind-blowing, gut-churning, monumentally historical (and, of course, Pulitzer-winning duh) stuff that every person working in a newspaper prays for.
This is exactly what editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee gets in 1971, when the exposure of what’s come to be known as The Pentagon Papers comes to light via a whistleblower, the military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (a riveting Matthew Rhys). Among any other things the research, data, and analysis contained in the voluminous papers detail how the American government has untenably prolonged The Vietnam War, and coached its highest officials (including, yeah, the prez) into proclaiming that the conflict was in the best interest of American foreign policy, that it was necessary.
Holy shit, right?
While the start of the story sets the tone for the industry problems that beset Streep, a noob publisher trying to balance quality reporting with the business wishes of her board and partners, the movie’s stakes kick into high gear when The Pentagon Papers fall into The Washington Post’s hands in the most innocuous and classically counterculture way.
Much of it is based on true events: how The Washington Post and The New York Times formed an alliance when The Times’ incendiary exposure of the top secret study motivated government to put them through court proceedings and an order to desist publishing anything about the study. Though NYT got the scoop, The Washington Post took up the story from there, with the stakes quite clear: thousands of U.S. soldiers were dying and fighting a war their government believed hopeless.
With an A-list cast, and Spielberg at the helm, it’s like a steroid-fueled narrative that runs on the same rails as recent journalism-driven outings like The Newsroom and Spotlight, except this one is a bullet train. Hanks and Streep (up for a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars) are given the biggest chunk of the screen time pie, but props must also go to Bob Odenkirk and Carrie Coon as Post reporters Ben Bagdikian and Meg Greenfield, respectively, for handling the verite duties of being dogged reporters without veering into caricature.
And, of course, the two leads also have the best lines. Bradlee’s deadpan maxims, like “If we don’t hold them accountable, who will?” or “The only way to protect the right to publish is to publish” are so vintage style journo I could smell the typewriter ink and corrective fluid from under his fingernails.
Will the publisher Katharine Graham cement her legacy against her conscience? She is, after all, best friends with the Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). We cheer her on when she gains the confidence to lead.
Will Bradlee become the kind of tempered spirit his profession needs him to be, with both finesse and two-fists for his stories? We want him to see the balance point and become its embodiment by choosing his battles, like any editor worth his salt.
My journalism movies were built on the outsider looking in. As much as I loved Year of Living Dangeroulsy, I also adored Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I took about as much inspiration from the harrowing imagery of The Bang Bang Club as the perils of rock and roll in Almost Famous. I must include this high-wire drama on my list of “classic journ” films because it answers the question “has journalism become useless now?”
The Post is proof of the journo’s intrinsic function. We require the skills of journalism practitioners, because, hey, how can people even begin to figure out The Pentagon Papers?
The answer: they can’t. They need to know how to study facts, present them in a coherent, understandable timeline, and cover all bases through the basic grind of confirmation, and to know which is the ass end of a verifiable source.
Stop the presses and clap for Steven Spielberg.
The Post is now screening in Philippine cinemas.