A look at The Post (PG)
A whole range of United States presidents sat on the hard facts about the Vietnam War from the time of John F Kennedy and up to the period of Richard Nixon.
Military operations had been conducted in secret and negative news from investigative journalists had been buried.
And more and more ‘American boys’ had been transported to the rice-paddies and jungle battlefields, many never to return alive.
The US public was furious. While protests raged in major cities the president and senior Nixon aides such as Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) refused to directly address the public’s concerns.
So after the New York Times had scooped the Washington Post on a major 1971 expose The Post’s editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) decides on his own course of action.
No matter what, he’s going to continue to pursue the story using what became known as the ‘Pentagon Papers’: part of which had been used by the Times.
Military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) had seen the brutalities of the Vietnam War up close. He’d spent time there in the late Sixties.
Determined to ‘out’ the duplicity of his country’s regime Ellsberg secretly ferries 4,000 pages of top-secret documents out of the Pentagon.
After a day’s work he carried documents out through security checkpoints in the evenings, using just his briefcase, and then stored them waiting for an opportunity to reveal all.
The Post’s proprietor/publisher Katharine “Kay” Graham (Meryl Streep) has to be cajoled by Bradlee into continuing on with the Pentagon Papers material.
A prominent widowed Washington socialite she’s firm friends with McNamara and is hosting a party where he and his wife are present when Bradlee arrives and breaks the news.
A senior reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) has tracked Ellsberg down to a Boston motel.
Bagdikian packs up two boxes of Ellsberg’s papers and flies back to Washington first class, the boxes of papers firmly belted in their own paid seat beside him.
Now Graham, the first female publisher of a major US newspaper, has to make a monumental decision. The Washington Post had just been floated on the Wall Street stock market so a catastrophic legal fight could well de-rail the whole shares process.
The Post’s lawyers arrive at Graham’s palatial home, urging Graham and Bradleee not to publish.
But as the editor points out: ‘newspapers are here to serve the governed, not the governors.’
And after the US Supreme Court votes 6-3 in The Post’s favour the Pentagon Papers are set for a massive run in the paper as Graham gives unconditional approval.
For many old journos such as your correspondent director Steven Spielberg has captured the period of the Seventies perfectly.
Landline telephones and typewriters sit on reporters’ desks while down in the vast production area linotype operators set the stories and the headlines which go with them in hot metal.
The lines of metal are loaded into the composing stones and hey, presto: with all the stones lined up, and the flongs (or moulds) printed and attached to the press she’s ready to roll.
Kay Graham is even down in the production area in one shot peering over the shoulder of a senior linotype operator as he punches out the story in hot metal in front of him, line by line.
In central Victoria I think we got the first of the new green screen computers, where you could split the screen and use the right-hand side for headline writing and sub-editing, in the very early 80s.
Perhaps Spielberg’s boardroom scenes where The Post’s directors, Kay Graham (as the only woman in the room) and financial advisors haggle over the best price for the shares to open up on Wall Street became a tad tedious.
But Spielbeg adds one brilliant final touch. Just before the credits roll a security guard on his rounds senses there’s some break-and-enter boys inside the Watergate Hotel and office complex where he’s employed.
So there’s another crisis for Nixon to face and one which led to his standing down as president in ‘74. The Watergate complex, of course, housed the Democrat Party’s headquarters.
Watergate these days stands by itself as a metaphor for meddling and corruption with the suffix ‘–gate’ now added to anything shonky or illegal.