We choose our movies carefully these days, opting to stay comfortably at home, rather than brave the winter weather. But when The Post was mentioned several times on television and in the papers, it piqued our interest. And then it was announced that it was up for two Oscars, so we just had to go.
It was clear to us immediately that the release of the film this year was no accident. Like other movies about the Pentagon Papers, familiar to Bob and me—All the President’s Men (1976), Klute (1971), and The Parallax View (1974), this movie centered on the Nixon presidency, and its lawless attempts to withhold information about the government’s 30 year involvement with the Vietnam war.
What makes this movie so powerful and timely, are the obvious parallels to the current belligerent treatment of the press by President Trump, not the least of which is his claim that most news outlets produce fake news. The risk in releasing a major film about a topic still fresh in the public’s mind was overruled, no doubt, by the anger about what is happening to the press today.
The choice of two popular and much-loved actors, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, to play the main characters, publisher Katherine Graham and editor Ben Bradlee, was a smart move. It did a lot to raise awareness, and garner public sympathy for the story.
The #MeToo movement—still relevant today
Streep was brilliant as socialite Kate, thrust in her role as publisher by the death of her husband. Her dignity and courage resonated with audiences, convincingly portraying an undisputable professionalism.
This made the next parallel even more significant, coming as it did on the heels of a rapidly developing crisis in male-female relationships within the media and entertainment arena. Kate, belittled and insulted by members of her own staff as she deliberated over the decisions only she could make, held her own, and, although these incidents were underplayed in the movie, women everywhere identified with her struggle. Her discomfort, and determination was not lost on women viewers, who remember the humiliations women have historically suffered in order to make headway in a male dominated world.
All this lost, in the passage of time
Once the decision to go to press was made, the tempo of the movie changed, from the paralyzing frustration and indecision of the staff, to the actual work of publishing a paper. Images of type being set, newspapers hurtling down the pulleys and being tossed into waiting vehicles rolled across the screen, inviting us to participate in the excitement and intensity of the printing process. It was clear that at that time, getting out the news was sweaty, grinding, time-starved, deadline driven, and very serious work.
What struck me more than the similarities between the attitudes of Nixon and Trump towards the press or even the harshness of male treatment of women in those days, was how everything about human communication has completely and utterly changed.
So what’s left now in communication
There is no urgency, today, about getting the news out. That is the mission now of the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and CNN. The news is delivered in a constant, cacophonic stream now, its content presented in bits and bites throughout the entire day. Short, pithy, click-baiting titles snag your attention, and lead you down a path of distraction through ads, and images that compete for your reaction. It’s all about who can tease you into ‘likes’, and ‘claps’, and the odd, inadvertent venture into ads.
By the time, we older people—because we seem to be the only ones reading, open up the newspaper, everything has already been said. What remains is the digestion, the opinion pieces and editorials that are still, thankfully, offered up, even if they do exist only on the back pages.
And although that is a legitimate and useful service, it’s clear that there is no adrenal rush of excitement in it, no anticipation of what comes next. It’s a loss of importance, in a way, and a loss of the demands of integrity and courage.
The reporters who broke the news of government corruption were overwhelmingly brave, taking a chance on finding truth through a difficult and hidden maze. What they wrote was taken as gospel. There was never a hint that it might be unfounded opinion, unresearched, and possibly untrue.
It’s worrisome that today, a story of such magnitude, with such potential for political fallout, might be cynically challenged and accused of being fake news. That this happens repeatedly in the current political atmosphere, belies the whole idea of a free press, and makes us afraid for the survival of justice and truth.