Why is Steven Spielberg’s new film, The Post, so important for journalism today?
In a time when news about fake news makes the headlines, journalists are deemed ‘enemy of the people’ by rulers of state and the world casts doubt over the integrity of journalists around the world, there’s no doubt that a film like The Post is being released at the perfect time.
That thought hasn’t escaped its director, Steven Spielberg, either: “This couldn’t wait three years, or two years, this was a story that needed to be told today.”
Ironic, then, that the film was written before Donald Trump’s #fakenews outcry became one of the world’s most trending hashtags. Taking just nine months to make, The Post has already been making waves in the media industry, nominated for several Golden Globes and predicted for a few Oscar nominations too.
Offering a genuine insight into the risks of investigative journalism, Spielberg’s production tells the true story of Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female publisher at The Washington Post, and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), as they are faced with the decision of exposing government lies.
When The New York Times was shut down by former US President Nixon in the 70s after releasing part of the Pentagon Papers that revealed three decades’ worth of government lies about the Vietnam War, The Washington Post was left to decide whether it should take a risk and leak the rest of the papers.
Producers say the film mostly centres on the decision placed in the hands of the publisher and editor-in-chief, who are faced with the ultimate question of ‘Do we risk everything?’ Even more relevant, the film addresses the working relationship between Graham and Bradlee and the challenges faced by a woman in a male-dominated industry.
“There has never been a more exciting, exhausting and dangerous time to be an investigative journalist than now, especially, of course, for women,” Streep said at the Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Awards.
It echoes her previous sentiments at the Golden Globes when her powerful speech touched on the importance of freedom of the press in a time like today: “We need the principled press, to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage; that’s why our founders enshrine the press and its freedoms in our constitution. So I only asked the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists, because we’re gonna need them going forward, and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.”
It may not have been a direct hit at Trump, but the insinuation was certainly there. Imagine Streep’s surprise then when it was recently revealed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that Trump requested for The Post to be screened at the White House, to which Streep replied: “It’s a very patriotic movie, maybe he did like it and he didn’t see the parallels.”
The film never shows president Nixon, so despite being set four decades ago, said parallels could be easy for audiences to draw, as we imagine modern day journalists faced with equally challenging choices at the risk of being branded an ‘enemy of the people’ by the notoriously cantankerous president.
“The assault on the First Amendment under the Nixon administration was old school, a D-Day version of ‘Let’s stop this story because it’s national security and they’re traitors if they print it. Because if they dare print it, they’ll find out that we lied. And if they know that we’re lying, we can’t do our jobs’,” Hanks told The Independent.
“What’s happening now is this guerrilla war that is going on against the First Amendment. This idea now that has actually been verbalised by various people high up in the current administration, that there is such a thing as [an] ‘alternative fact’. It gives validation to what is patently false, that the purveyors know is a lie, and worse, know that it is completely unconfirmed and is scurrilous. And in that realm comes some degree of the same message: ‘Don’t let them find out the truth, because if so we can’t stay in power’. All of this stuff that was going on was not lost on any of us.”
Also starring: Bruce Greenwood, Sarah Paulson and Bradley Whitford
Running time: 1hr 55m
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