The Crusader Newspaper Group

‘The Post’ tackles freedom of speech versus the U.S. government

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader

Veteran, award-winning actress Meryl Streep and veteran, award-winning actor Tom Hanks are at it again with both having great turns in the Oscar-nominated film “The Post.”

The movie explores the lies that then-President Richard Nixon had been telling about the progress that United States military forces had been making within the Vietnam War effort. The question of any cover-up was initially made by the New York Times, but in the end it was the female-run The Washington Post newspaper and Katherine Graham, played by Streep, who brought it to the public’s attention.  However, it wasn’t an easy thing to go up against the government and the man in the White House.

“The Post” is set in the early 1970s and depicts the true story of Post journalists to publish the so-called classified Pentagon Papers, which were compiled by military analyst Daniel Ellsberg and chronicled the 30-year involvement of the U.S. government in the Vietnam War. Hanks plays Ben Bradlee, the star editor of The Post, who often had differing opinions than his boss, Graham, about what to run in the paper. Graham had inherited the paper from her late husband and was catching it in more ways than one, because she was female in a male-dominated field. Graham was hard and ambitious, and around the time that she had to decide whether to go against a court order already levied against the New York Times in publishing the papers, The Post had just filed papers to be considered for public offerings on the New York Stock Exchange.

It was important for The Post to publish the papers, as far as Bradlee was concerned, because if it hadn’t, then folks may have thought that the paper was agreeing with the government that publishing the papers would put the United States at risk. The Post had an icy relationship with Nixon, with the president even choosing which reporters he wanted to cover White House events.

The movie covers the actions of four U.S. Presidents; Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, and covered three decades of maneuvers and orders on the part of the U.S. military. Both Graham and Bradlee were putting their careers at risk and, in Graham’s case, she was putting her paper at risk of failing. “The Post” is a great look at the workings of an American newspaper that has stood the test of time—and especially during the time when the reins were held by a female publisher.

I enjoyed “The Post,” but I wondered how accurate the representation of Black writers in the paper’s newsroom was during the early 1970s. The film is playing throughout the city and suburbs and really—if one looks closely­—speaks a lot to the current situation in Washington, where President Trump is blatantly against some media outlets and freedom of speech is being attacked.

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