The President is angry at how the press is treating him. I refer, of course, to President Nixon at the time of the Pentagon Papers.
In 1971, the New York Times published The Pentagon Papers but The Post is not about their decision. It is about The Washington Post having to decide whether to also publish them and risk a backlash from President Nixon.
I’ll confess that I originally thought The Post was a remake of All The President’s Men. It’s not. That movie is about Watergate and still a great movie. I’d say it should be seen with The Post for a lesson both in history and in the vital importance of a free press. Democracy depends on it.
I’ll confess that both events, The Pentagon Papers and then Watergate almost slipped past me at the time. Those were the years when I travelled, hitchhiked across Europe, came home, worked as a waitress at the Grand Canyon, picked crops in Oregon, then settled down to making a bad marriage I had to extricate myself from and restart my life. So these two movies have served as a political education.
The Post actually begins with Daniel Ellsberg visiting the troops in Vietnam. His respect for them is so great, he wants to be certain their valor and sacrifice is justified. On his return to the USA, he uses his security clearance to read the classified papers (Department of Defense Study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from 1945-1967)and discovers a history of secrecy under four Presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson) that he feels should be made public. He copies the papers and gives them to the New York Times which publishes them and is immediately in legal trouble.
The story centers on Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham of the Washington Post. She is the first woman publisher of a major American newspaper. She and Ben Bradlee, her Editor, have to make the decision of whether to take the risk of publication.
The Post can also be seen as a history of feminism. Meryl Streep several times talks about how she never planned on running the paper. It had been founded by her father and on his death went to her husband. At the time, that seemed normal and she took for granted that her role was to be the supportive wife. Her husband’s sudden death left her in charge so the movie is about her growing into her new position. In most scenes, she is the only woman in the room.
There is a potential science fiction connection. Alternate history is a popular topic but it’s usually about a different outcome to WWII or alternately going back to kill Hitler, etc. I’m not aware of anyone doing an alternate history of the Vietnam War. However, years ago, when I read a biography of General MacArthur, I learned that in the last year of his life, he urged Kennedy to not get involved in Vietnam. He convinced Kennedy that we could not win a land war in Asia. We know this because Kennedy talked about it and even talked about beginning a withdrawal. His idea was to have us out of Vietnam by 1965.
Then he was assassinated and that ended any withdrawal. So there’s the alternate history possibility. What would the USA and Vietnam and the entire world be like if JFK had lived and we had been out of Vietnam in 1965?
It’s an interesting question.
Reviewed by: Marian Powell