By James F. Tracy
“We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.” Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, Langley Virginia, 1988.
Steven Spielberg’s tribute to Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham and modern American journalism is a major Hollywood endeavor marshaling the industry’s premier talent. A s of this writing The Post has been nominated for dozens of awards throughout the film community. The movie itself, however, comprises a sort of tortured historical confirmation on exactly how the news media would like to view themselves and their industry. It does so by mixing verifiable truths alongside careful omissions to reinforce a deeper set of myths concerning notions of American press freedom and the Vietnam War era.
On a more immediate level, The Post was produced in under six months, and was at least partly motivated by the political allegiances of its creators, who seek to analogize the Richard Nixon administration’s pursuit of a court injunction against the US press’ publication of the Pentagon Papers to President Donald Trump’s bellicose attitude toward a corporate news media that has arguably become an increasingly partisan political force following Trump’s defeat of his Democratic Party rival.
Spielberg renders Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) as a somewhat awkward and isolated widow and among the first female publishers in the predominantly male-dominated business of newspaper publishing. Left unmentioned is the fact that Graham was the daughter of Eugene Meyer, one of the country’s most powerful bankers, who bought the Washington Post in 1933 while serving as head of the Federal Reserve.