Set in 1971, Steven Spielberg’s latest project The Post, a political thriller written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, follows the intense journey of the staff of The Washington Post as they attempt to find and release the Pentagon Papers. The film mainly centres around the publisher of The Washington Post, Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) and it’s executive editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). When it comes to light that a confidential report on the vietnam war has been leaked, revealing decades of government secrets, both must decide where their loyalties lie: with their political socialite friends or with the people of America to whom they have a duty, as the leaders of a newspaper, to inform.
As essentially a story of the people vs. the government, with themes of feminism and morality and with the message that the free press will prevail and government corruption will be exposed and rectified, The Post is meant to be an uplifting film. Why then does it’s closing leave such a sour taste? While ‘The Post’ presents us with a narrative that serves as a shining example of functioning democracy, it also holds a mirror up to our current society, forcing us to reflect on the current political situation. The film is laced with references to the absolute power that Richard Nixon attempted to invoke during his presidency. In Robert McNamara’s (Bruce Greenwood) warning to Gradhm he rightly states, ‘Nixon will muster the full power of the presidency, and if there’s a way to destroy you, by God, he’ll find it!’ The looming presence and fear of Nixon throughout the film is all too reminiscent of Trump’s White House.
It’s apparent that ‘The Post’ has set out to indirectly highlight the similarities between the two Presidents, however it’s the differences that we notice that are the most harrowing. Where Nixon tries to ban The Washington Post from reporting on him or the White House, Trump claims that all news broadcasters and reporters who say anything remotely against him are giving ‘fake news’. Where Nixon wants the Pentagon Papers to be kept classified, Trump fires people for investigating the legitimacy of his position and classified and declassified government documents at will and these things are only the tip of the iceberg for Trump. The film only alludes to the watergate scandal at it’s closing but it still serves to remind us how outraged people were when it came out that Nixon was potentially spying on his political opponents. The American government immediately set out to reduce presidential power and Nixon was set to be impeached but resigned first. All I could think once the film ended was ‘How have things escalated instead of improving?” and ‘How is Trump still sitting in the White House?’
The time period of ‘The Post’ is famous for its political movements, its radical protesting and its people have the power attitude, but what this film shows is that that type of pressure from the public is only useful if the people in power care. Nixon was put on trial because the government didn’t want anymore unrest or bad publicity. The difference now is that the Trump administration don’t care how they come across.They are happy to blatantly lie, to openly disregard human rights and to act inappropriately in any given situation. They want people to know exactly who Trump is, because how can you take someone who embraces their worst qualities down? A great portion American people have come to accept this behaviour, or at least become complacent to it, and this is a whole article in itself but one thing we can take away from ‘The Post’ is that we need to think about the power of journalism and the media.
The impression we get from the film is that Gradhm and Bradlee wanted to print the papers as they felt the government needed to be held accountable for their actions and the people of America deserved to know the truth. The press is made to ‘serve the governed, not the governors’ as is stated as one of the reason they win their court case. I think “The Post” has come at the right time as it reminds us not to become desensitised towards Trump, to not allow the media to use him for entertainment or shock value and clicks, but to remain radical and to expect prominent news outlets to be aware, to be objective and to work in the best interests of their people. When Trump says or does genuinely awful things very publicly and the media cover it by making fun of him, it can completely take away from the severity of what’s happened. This is a big factor in how he continues to get away with what should be unacceptable things. What ‘The Post’ expertly shows is that American journalism needs to get back to the basics of reporting, of doing research, of taking risks and providing the public with cold hard facts.
Emily O’Connell – Film Writer