Steven Spielberg teaches us about freedom of the press with “The Post”

Steven Spielberg has given us a valuable history less on freedom of the press in his Oscar season masterpiece, “The Post”.

The film is transparent and clear to follow. Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) is taking The Washington Post public on the American Stock Exchange.  In the early summer of 1971, The New York Times publishes the first installment of The Pentagon Papers as leaked by Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), while the Post feels embarrassed at the time by competing only with a story of a Nixon family wedding. The Nixon administration gets a court to enjoin the NYT, as the case heads for the Supreme Court. But a mole tracks down Daniel Ellsberg in a motel and gets 4000 pages more of material and delivers the stuff to the Post. The paper has to weigh the risks of indictment (if they reasonably know that the leak of classified material is the same as for the NYT) and ruining the public offering. The decision winds up in, well, a woman’s hands and that is a good thing.

The film obviously matters now given President Trump’s constant threats to the press, and the whole issue of “opening up libel laws” to function more like Britain’s.

The film opens with a war scene in Vietnam set in 1966, with an infantry patrol in the jungles, and many body bags. Soon we see a reported typing.  Combat journalism is itself a risky occupation.

We also see the technology of the times, pre-internet, when people used pay phones and typewriters, and we see the actual typesetting of the Post edition, almost as we might have in a 50s film.

I spent the summer of 1968 in the Pentagon after finishing Basic Training. I suspect one reason I was transferred is that “they” didn’t want me to “find out” some things.  I suspect that the papers included material about “McNamara’s morons” (book review coming). Bruce Greenwood plays the over-elite Defense Secretary, who knew right off that the NYT piece was bad for him. One issue that comes up in the film is whether the release of the Papers could jeopardize soldiers (often draftees) on the Vietnam patrols.

I had a misadventure seeing it at the Ballston Quarter Regal.  The garage elevators failed, with an electrical problem due to moisture and rapid warmup after a freeze.  I already had a ticket. At my insistence, the security guard let us use the fire stairs to get to the theater.

Tom Hanks and Sarah Paulson play Bradlees.  It’s interesting to see how much work was done in private homes.  The New York Times runner (Luke Slattery) is quite charismatic himself; this was during the days before bicycle messengers (or Internet pdf’s for that matter).

The end of the film gives us a “sneak” of Watergate, after Nixon banned reporters from the White House. Nixon would develop the peace agreement that stopped most American fighting in January 1973.

The film skipped the musical fanfares of the various companies at the beginning, which is unusual for 20th Century Fox and Dreamworks, which haven’t been paired together as far as I recall.

It’s also interesting that Mr. Spielberg stayed with the 1.85:1 aspect ratio format for this film, which in some ways almost seems like a stage play.

Legacy review of “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers”.

Name: “The Post”
Director, writer:  Steven Spielberg
Released:  2017/12/22
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Ballston Quarter, 2018/1/12, daytime, fair crowd (logistical problems in the building held down the crowd)
Length:  103
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  20th Century Fox, DreamWorks, Participant Meida
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, January 12, 2018 at 7:30 PM)

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