The combination of Streep and Hanks, both American treasures, in Spielberg’s film “The Post” becomes a perfectly suitable choice for the overdramatised story of the American press in its hectic days before the publishing of highly classified documents on the US involvement in the Vietnam War. Yet, this time the drama happens within the “nation of the best values”. It’s press vs. the power; such a suitable reference for Trump-era.
In 1971 The New York Times published an article on the Pentagon Papers, revealing the truth behind over twenty years of US engagement in the Vietnam War. Nixon managed to cease publication after a few articles and the case of New York Times Co. Vs. United States quickly rose to the Supreme Court, putting the values of “the land of freedom” under distrust. However, only a few days later The Washington Post, a newspaper understated even by J. Edgar Hoover, started publishing its own series of articles based on the same governmental papers. The Post was told to stop further publication but this time the request was denied. The Pentagon Papers case is now considered to be a key moment in American history for transparency, whistleblowing and emphasising the press’ role in speaking truth to power.
“The Post” tells the story of those few tense days before the publication. Focusing mostly on the Post editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and its publisher, Katharine “Kay” Graham (Meryl Streep), their relations and the dilemma of facing the consequences of the publication. The tension is effectively built on the energetic atmosphere of the newsroom, followed by the suitable, but quite turgid, music by John Williams.
Yet, what seems right to say immediately after the screening is: “that’s so Spielberg”. After “Bridge of Spies” and the story of American heroes that never use violence and the Soviets with their black and white world view, the speech at the end of “The Post” was just “so American”. With my whole respect to Mr. Spielberg “The Post” just contributes to this bubble of American pathos, where the good values will always win with the help of the pillars of morality. As already said, this time, however, the story is being played on American ground, where certain parallels with Trump’s America can be easily spotted. America vs. America – press vs. power.
What hit me the most was the way in which Graham was presented. The film significantly misses the ‘real’ Kay. In the film, Streep’s character says that she has never worked before in her life when in fact Graham started working in a San Francisco newspaper after graduation, later moving to the Post which was owned by her father. After her husband’s death, she became the first female publisher of a major American newspaper and the first female Fortune 500 CEO. She always put an emphasis on investigative journalism as an important part of the Post. In Spielberg’s film Kay only becomes the ‘real’ Kay at the very end, after painfully watching almost two hours of a hopeless woman overshadowed by men who apparently have to explain everything to her.
“The Post” is technically a good film, but Spielberg’s belief in America and its values dominate over the story’s genuineness. The significance of the press’ role in bottom-up power was reduced to a tense story based on pathos where Kay Graham is taken down from the position of female publisher of the Post and promoter of gender equality within her company, and thus within journalism community, to a woman that cannot speak for herself and instead spends all her time throwing fancy parties.