The Post (2017) (a film review by Mark R. Leeper).

December 8, 2017 | By | Reply More

In 1971 the owner of the Washington Post is faced with a constitutional issue of whether to publish the contents of the Pentagon Papers or to allow the government to gag her newspaper. Steven Spielberg directs a good cast led by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Ben Bradlee (Hanks) editor-in-chief is pushing publisher Kay Graham (Streep), is pushing for the newspaper to exercise the First Amendment right of the newspaper.

Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10.

In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg was fed up. He had been on the team of military analysts who had reported on United States relations with Vietnam from the years 1945 to 1967. The report had concluded that the whole time the United States knew it could not defeat the North Vietnamese. The report looked at various strategies that could be tried, including rigging elections. Representatives of the military and the government lied to the American people about the United States strategic position.

Men kept being sent to Vietnam to fight a war we could not win. In frustration, Ellsberg leaked the report to the New York Times and the Times published some of the conclusions. Ellsberg then leaked more of the report to the foundering Washington Post. The government threatened to treat the releasing of information from the Ellsberg leak as an act of treason. The legal battle that ensued went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. How The Post got into this position and what they did about it is the basis of ‘The Post’, a film directed by Steven Spielberg.

The decision to print or not print fell to the reluctant Kay Graham (played by Meryl Streep). Graham inherited The Post when her husband died, but her opinions on how it should be run are ignored if she does not put her foot down and she rarely if ever does. This was 1971 and Graham only nominally was a publisher in what is considered a man’s business. Part of this film is her struggle to be taken seriously.

Now Graham had to make a decision that could land her in prison and shut down the newspaper. Her corporate advisors tell her to cooperate with the government demands. On the other side of the argument was her editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who insisted on publishing and exercising the paper’s First Amendment free-speech rights. For him it was extremely important since the news that was being censored involved the reason that thousands of soldiers were being killed.

Steven Spielberg has chosen to make this docudrama when it would have a particular resonance. Today there are political information leaks and people are being threatened by their government who is again (still?) trying to suppress information. Spielberg has a talent for taking complex social issues a clear explanation. Here, the major issue is whether the government has the right to censor leaked information by claiming that revealing the information will help our enemies. Here he directs an original screenplay by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer. Two or three times someone will make a two- or three-sentence speech very succinctly worded. He did that in ‘Lincoln’ also.

One minor unexpected touch of the script: the name I would associate most closely with the Pentagon Papers leak would be one Daniel Ellsberg. In this film, everything that happens does so because Ellsberg stood up and spoke the truth rather than endorse lies. When told that releasing information could get him imprisoned he simply asks, ‘Wouldn’t you go to jail to stop a war?’ The Ellsberg character gets only a small part in this film. He deserves more.

From time to time we need a film like ‘The Post’ to remind us what democracy is for. I rate ‘The Post’ a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10. It will have a limited release in December and a wider release in January.

Mark R. Leeper

© Mark R. Leeper 2017

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Category: Films, MEDIA

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