‘The Post’ Is An Imperfect Period Piece With Modern Themes
The story of this movie is as relevant now as it was then
Over the past year, it has been largely impossible to open social media, turn on the news, read a newspaper, or listen to a podcast without hearing someone’s opinion on the current state of American politics and the Donald Trump presidency. Regardless of your beliefs, one thing is fairly evident — Trump doesn’t like reporters (unless they work for Fox News).
Maybe without even realizing it, Donald Trump has put himself in the company of another president that wasn’t a huge fan of the media: Richard Nixon.
The Post tells the story of the editors, reporters, and publishers of The Washington Post in 1971, who, after receiving classified documents known as the Pentagon Papers, decide to publish a series of stories that detail how the government purposefully misled the public on the war in Vietnam. Tom Hanks portrays Ben Bradlee, the executive editor of the paper, Meryl Streep plays Kay Graham, the publisher, and actors such as Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, and others round out the cast of reporters. Over the course of the film, they wrestle with the legal, and moral, implications of publishing such damning reports and how it could potentially do harm to the national security of the United States.
The movie is basically a left winger’s dream, as The Post is as much of an indictment of the Trump White House as it is of the Nixon White House. You don’t need to be a film scholar to pick up on the overt similarities the movie is trying to show you.
There are scenes in the movie where it shows Nixon talking in the Oval Office to his subordinates over what to do with the press regarding the publishing of these reports. Using the audio from the real phone calls, you hear Nixon talking about censuring the press, attempting to use the courts to prevent the publication of these stories, and potentially jailing reporters should they violate these court orders.
The parallels are quite striking in Trump’s war on the press.
In the era of fake news, in which the President and members of his administration attempt to discredit the media and sow distrust of news organizations, it is now on the American public to try and decide what is real news.
Lucky for the reporters in The Post, they had the trust of the American public. While they may not have been taken as fact all the time, news organizations were important institutions of American society and the public relied on them much more than they do now. The 24-hour news cycle has become a contest of who can report news quickest and deliver the hottest takes, in order to score ratings. Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and the rest are all guilty of this.
Nixon attempted to silence the press. Trump is playing the same game. Nixon got injunctions to try and prevent the publication of stories, while Trump has said he’d like to ban certain outlets from the White House press room, as well as rewrite libel laws in an attempt to downplay criticism of him. The similarities between the two Presidencies are fairly obvious and honestly at this point, would anyone be shocked if they ended the same way?
When you combine a director like Spielberg with a cast that includes Hanks and Streep, you pretty much are a shoo in for an Oscar nomination and make no mistake about it, this movie is pure Oscar bait. That’s because the institution of journalism and its main job of holding the powerful accountable for their actions was as important in the era of The Post as it is today. Sure, the press isn’t perfect. But its work is crucial for any upstanding democracy to function.
The Post demonstrates why this was so vital then — and why it is just as important now.