The Post, is an all star movie (Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks as lead actors as the owner of the paper and the editor respectively of its namesake The Washington Post) with Steven Spielberg helming the directorial mantle dealing with an issue of contemporary American History with the Dan Ellsberg ‘Pentagon Papers’ on the American war in Vietnam, and the cover up which kept young military soldiers fighting a losing conflict. Ellsberg book is stuff of myth, which has inspired generations of activists including writer Arundhati Roy and actor John Cussack (read their recent pithy book).
The movie genre, taps in to the new paper as a fountain head of democracy via the tropes of investigative journalism, bringing accountability to institutional power. The recent movie ‘Spotlight’ on the Boston Globe investigative team reporting on the child abuse scandal. The news room frames in the movie is almost frame to frame identical, and a reflection of the aesthetic vocabulary of the times.
The movie questions the cosy relationship between media owners/editors and the power elite and the role that media owners were playing in shaping the discourse in the pre digital era. Access to stories and in the power corridors is a negotiation between the media and the ruling elite; The Post and the Nixon Administration and now CNN and Trump Administration. The lens of the movie on the publication politics rather than on Dan Ellsberg and his activism, with whom the movie started.
The rivalry between the more popular New York Times and The Post is presented well, but in the event on the assault on the media, the two were on the same side in a legal battle.
Streep as the widower owner of the paper trying to raise funds through an IPO, in 1971 and the dance around commercial concerns and values of public service with the dilly dallying with publish or not to publish the scoop is an extraordinary fictional window of journalistic courage. Journalism used to be public service. Now it is paid news, apart from a couple of oasis of excellence, depending on paid subscribers.
A timely cinematic message very relevant for the Alt Facts/Post Truth era that we reside in. The movie however is produced by Anil Ambani’s Reliance Entertainment, an Indian Billionaire producing an American Journalism themed movie, on a newspaper owned by another billionaire, Mr Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon. The networks of Transnational Capitalism are unique, Amen.
The cinematography is sensitive, but not extraordinary. The aesthetics of the early 1970’s is depicted accurately, as if shot through a retro Instagram filter. The strength of the movie is the powerful acting of the crew, tempered rather than over the top. The dialogue delivery is the star of the film, at times understated and understandable. Nixon is pictured at the end of the movie ordering blockade of access to Washington Post after the publication of the incriminating evidence, while the water gate scandal is exploding at the same hour. Just brilliant. Take a bow Mr Spielberg.
A must watch for all J School students, writers, social scientists, historians and the public at large, interested in a vital episode of public discourse.