You really see just how much politics and journalism have changed when you see Steven Spielberg’s The Post.
Back then everyone watched, read or listened to the same four or five major media news sources. So individual conduits, commentators, reporters and networks wielded greater power and influence. Threats by the federal government to censor the news had to be taken seriously as they could be backed up by the law with threats of financial ruin and jail time.
Today we have the web. Anyone can publish. Now an Administration in the United States. can wage war on the free press and individual named reporters with little more than a Twitter feed and a cellphone. As a result of this difference the tension and drama presented in the Post are amplified because the rules were better defined and the consequences of going outside the lines were real.
The choices faced by The Washington Post and The New York Times about publishing the government’s secret history of the Vietnam War and the Federal Government’s supportive lies were much more clear cut than they are today. Now an Administration’s cries of ‘fake news are amplified and even accepted by those in the media who believe their interests parallel the Administration’s. Meanwhile, the president has no qualms about labeling American news media journalists as “enemies of the American people.”
So does the movie The Post have any relevance to today’s world?
It does. The movie tracks more than just the Washington Post’s involvement with the Pentagon Papers. It also dwells on Katherine Graham’s experiences as she is forced to grow and exert more authority over how the Post was financed and run.
The business decision to go public with an IPO in order to secure growth financing was a major one in this story. Fact is, the movie’s depiction of how this financial decision was intermingled with the stress of deciding how to deal with the Pentagon Papers is well illustrated in clear and unambiguous terms.
Spielberg and an excellent cast and script all work together to make entertaining and even inspiring a tale tha could have been boring or even soap-opera-ish.
Today, of course, something like the Pentagon Papers would not require the editorial input from a Post or Times to be published. Anyone can publish anything. Yet, we still have to consider the motivation of those who do the publishing and release of information on the web, just as we need to understand who was really behind the public release of all those hacked emails from the DNC. That is to say that the role of a free press is even more important now since there are so many different sources of information and people need help making sense of it all.
A movie like The Post puts these issues in stark perspective especially when today we have an Administration in the U.S. that lies on a regular basis while its supporters — even those who claim some religious or moral motivation — regularly ignore or excuse those lies.
Granted, The Post does occasionally lapse into fits of preaching, but I excuse the movie for this. Spielberg does not try to hide his belief in the responsibility of a free press to tell the truth especially when lies result in people dying.
That so many people from the top down in the U.S. today are so contemptuous of a free press we should all find disturbing.
For aNewDomain, I’m Dennis D. McDonald.
An earlier version of this movie review ran on Dennis D. McDonald’s DDMCD.com site. Read it here.