The Oberlin Review

The Post Sheds Light on Media, Government Tussles

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If I had to pick one word to describe The Post, which is directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, I would choose “relevant.” The movie revolves around the publishing of classified documents related to the hopelessness of the Vietnam War under the Nixon presidency and his administration’s attempts to stop these documents from being made public. Due to the depiction of paranoid, tyrannical leadership trying to silence news organizations, much of the movie resonates in today’s social and political climate and the struggle for freedom of speech.

The movie begins as Daniel Ellsberg (played by Matthew Rhys), a government employee, witnesses the destruction and horror of the Vietnam war firsthand. As he returns to America and presents his findings to members of the Johnson administration, he hears Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (played by Bruce Greenwood) realizing an impending American defeat and the futility of the war. However, as soon as media reporters ask for his opinion on the outcome, McNamara proclaims that the war effort is going extremely well. Angered by this misrepresentation costing numerous American lives and resources, Ellsberg copies classified government documents on the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers and shares them with The New York Times.

Meanwhile, Katharine Graham (played by Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, is trying to keep her paper The Washington Post alive and thriving. Though Graham is a woman in power, she is constantly pushed around by the men that dominate her company. Her Editor-in-Chief, Ben Bradlee (Hanks), picks up on the buzz of a big story at the Times, attempts to catch the source of the story to keep the Post up to date, and is eventually successful. When the Times faces legal trouble from the Nixon administration and the possibility of being shut down altogether, Graham has a decision on her hands: honor the newspaper’s role and hold the government accountable for its behavior regardless of the consequences, or bow down to censorship in order to exist at all.

The main story, with its focus on protection of the free press, is not the only point of relevance. Throughout the movie, Katharine Graham has to deal with rampant sexism in her job. She is the only female newspaper publisher, and many of the men around her try to speak over her or inform her decisions. In one notable scene, Graham is the most prepared person in a finance meeting, but she is almost completely ignored by the men in the room. However, when it is time to print, her father’s legacy is at stake and she, the owner of the paper, showcases a complete change in character. A female writer, Meg Greenfield (played by Carrie Coon), also deals with sexism. She is often put in charge of the editorial section, and is also forced to write pieces about weddings and shoes in order to cater to the female demographic. In the wake of the 2017 movements that attempted to spark a national conversation about women’s equality, this nod to women taking back their power on a daily basis is particularly timely.

The main problem with this movie is its preachiness. In the hands of lesser actors, the comments Bradlee and Graham deliver on the importance of the free press or the lies of the government would be hokey and ruin the flow of the story. However, Hanks and Streep manage to make these comments on the free press sound admirable.

The Post is not for everyone, and it is not perfect. If you do not want to be reminded of the state of affairs in the world and the fragility of the free press, or if you are not fond of period pieces, then you might want to see something else. The film’s occasional preaching to the audience on fairly obvious values of liberty may turn some viewers off. However, I do think it deserves the Oscar nominations which it has received. Though a tad on-the-nose, overall it is a dramatic, captivating story which needs to be told, as a reminder of what our country stands for, rather than a novel announcement.

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