Weekly Feature

2018-01-17 / Editorials

Hollywood got it right with film ‘The Post’

Managing Editor

While the recently released film “The Post,” directed by Steven Spielberg, makes a moving statement about the credibility of journalism and the tension of the business world, the first Oscar should go to the prop department.

Somehow, the folks at 20th Century Fox came up with an amazing array of vintage office, printing and photography equipment to make it 1971 all over again. It adds to the film’s realism and credibility.

At times, the events in the film stand as breaking news but are unraveled in slow motion. There are logistical issues, the threat of imprisonment and the almighty deadline. Each is met head-on and overcome.

By the way, it’s based on a true story.

“The Post” stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in a sobering drama about the partnership between The Washington Post’s Katharine Graham (Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks), as they race to catch up with The New York Times to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spanned three decades and four U.S. presidents. The two must overcome their differences as they risk their careers – and their very freedom – to help bring long-buried truths to light, according to the official website’s description.

“Both of them want a great newspaper, one that will shake off its image as a ‘local paper’ and do more than make headlines; they want it to make history,” according to the review in Variety. “But they disagree on how to get there. Their contentious camaraderie is highly entertaining, and so is the whole movie, which pulses ahead like a detective yarn for news junkies, one that crackles with present day parallels.”

In 1971, following the public revelation of the Pentagon Papers, both the New York Times and The Post stood tall against an injunction filed by the Nixon White House to cease publication of the classified documents — an attempt at legal clampdown.

“‘The Post’ offers not so much a message as a warning: that freedom of the press is a fight that never stops,” added the Variety review. Bravo.

Bradlee and Graham often joust about the newspaper’s mission and obligation.

“If we don’t hold them accountable, who will?” he asks her.

“We can’t hold them accountable if we don’t have a newspaper,” she curtly replies.

“In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in his concurring decision.

“The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.”

If it were only that easy. As The Times pointed out on page one of the July 1, 1971, edition, the articles were researched and written over the course of three months by investigative reporter Neil Sheehan and other staff members.

The lack of honesty from multiple administrations is shocking. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara could have spared America years of carnage on Dec. 21, 1963, when he wrote, “The situation is very disturbing. Current trends, unless reversed in the next two-three months, would lead to a neutralization at best and more likely to a Communist controlled state.”

Thanks to confident, dedicated professionals at the highest level of American journalism, the message of the movie comes through loud and clear.

I couldn’t smell the ink, but my heart swelled with pride.

(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.)

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