The Post Review – Perfection, Rekindles the Fire of Investigative Reporting

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The Post, from DreamWorks, Amblin Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox, presents a defining moment in journalism as the Fourth Estate clashed violently with government over the publishing of Top Secret and classified documents known as The Pentagon Papers.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Post stars Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, Ben Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Michael Stuhlbarg, Deborah Green, Gary Wilmes, Matthews Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, Steven Kearney, and Curzon Dobell.

The Post begins in the jungles of South East Asia. Daniel Ellsberg, on loan from the state department was along to observe, his duties were to dictate accurately the truth of the War in Vietnam. The scenes in Vietnam are in rapid succession, as the platoon leaves camp, treks into the jungle, is ambushed and engages in enemy fire, men die, and Ellsberg as we find out is changed forever from this single day trip  into the Vietnam War.


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Riding home with the Robert McNamara, played by Bruce Greenwood, the Secretary of Defense, under President Richard M. Nixon, who appears mostly in silhouette, and is played, by Curzon Dobell, his observer status is completed. Today, McNamara is explaining the Vietnam War in unwinnable, and as the U.S. Troops were making no headway, they were essentially backpedaling.

After this enlightening trip back to Washington, Ellsberg, decides the time has come to expose the Nixon Administration and Secretary McNamara for lying to the American people and continuing to send American sons to die in the jungles of Vietnam.

During this time we meet Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks, who now was sitting at somewhat of a pinnacle in his illustrious career, working his way up from a stringer crime beat reporter, to a foreign correspondent, to the head of Newsweek and while not using his friendship with former President Kennedy to advance his career, the President did carry a level of entitlement and Bradlee was smart enough to play it well.

Which is where we meet Kay Graham, played by Meryl Streep, the regal dame of Washington Elite, the owner of the Washington Post, she is just coming into her own, as her husband, Phil, committed suicide and left her to run the paper that had been in her family for years. Never having had to lead she was now faced with staring down a boardroom of men. Her trusted associated, Fritz BeeBe, played by Tracy Letts, The Chairman of the Washington Post Board who briefs her, councels her, provides expert advice, and suggestions.

Today Fritz is prepping her for a presentation. As we see, Ms. Graham is awkwardly, timid, and equally indecisive, in these early days of running The Washington Post. So for now, her indecisiveness  is painstakingly uncomfortably and we watch wringing our hands hoping she will stand up and assert her authority.

Bradlee has a nose for the news. Not only the news in Washington but also news coming from his number one competitor, The New York Times, and of everything he’s sure of the New York Times is preparing to scoop the world.

Considering the journalism community, especially in the close knit Washingtonian community, his instincts are correct and The New York Times publishes 8000 words of classified documents detailing the knowledge of top Aids in Nixon’s White House to lie to the public, fund a long term, propaganda campaign that spans the terms of four presidents, that will turn the mind, and more importantly the emotions, of the public creating support, which never materialized once American sons began to come home by the hundreds in body bags.  


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The information was the Top Secret documents smuggled out of the Defense Department by Ellsberg. Once the New York Times goes public, Bradlee had all his reporters working on finding the papers, someone, somewhere in this town has to have a copy.

Meanwhile, The Attorney General files an injection against the New York Times ordering them to cease and desist all printing of The Pentagon Papers. Bob Bagdikian, played by Bob Odenkirk, finally tracked down Ellsberg, hiding with piles of the copies documents.

Soon he is back in D.C. heading over to Bradlee’s house and soon, he along with six other reporters are pouring through these stunning documents that reveling the mindset, the plan, the acceptable sacrifice and burden of the American people.

Suddenly we are a facing a paradigm shift.

For journalists, The Post is a reminder of what why we chose this profession. For those not charged with protecting the Fourth Estate, The Post delivers a full on, in your face realization that we need to hold our government accountable and at times we have to blur the lines to ensure it gets done.

Obviously an all star cast, The Post has earned six Golden Globe Nominations, with nods going to Director Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. The Post also delivers stand out performances by Bob Odenkirk, Matthew Rhys, Bruce Greenwood and Tracy Letts.

Steven Spielberg captured every nuance of the days, times, and events as they played out in this short compacted season when Nixon’s government was facing microscopic examination and The Washington Post was leaving the family theme behind to launch into a National and International paper of record.

The ending is a satirical punch and an precursor to the next great chapter of The Ben Bradlee/Katharine Graham/Washington Post era.

The Post is four star perfection, it rekindles the fire of investigative news reporting, delivering solid performances across the board, fueling the desire to be part of a mini-rebellion. It’s presents a watershed moment in journalism.

The Post opens December 22, 2017 in select cities and expands to theaters everywhere January 12, 2017.

 


Post Script: Justice Hugo Black wrote in his concurring opinion which favored the New York Times in the New York Times Verses the United States in what has become known as The Pentagon Papers case.

"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.

The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government."


 

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