“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose a deception in government. And Paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.”
– Justice Black, 1971
Since Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States the country has been in turmoil. In eleven short moths, Trump has brought shame and dishonour to the Oval Office around the world, his uncensored rants showing him to be the bully and ignorant fool he is. He lies, often, several times a day, and he knows he is lying but believes his lies and expects those around him to support and hold up his falsehoods.
When he first attacked the press, I remember thinking out loud, “this is how Hitler started.” One of the first things Hitler did was censor the German press, banning what he did not want printed, openly lying about what was happening. Trump has not banned the press, but he has tried and no one can tell me he has not thought about it. He attacks various news outlets who have criticized and/ or exposed him in their work, refusing to take their questions, threatening to take away their White House credentials. Beyond all those actions, what he said about women before the election should have doomed him in the election. The man respects no one. NO ONE.
We expect the news to be reported as it is, the truth, told to us with integrity and credibility. With Trump, I think his issue comes in that he is often treated with open disdain by reporters who simply dislike, do not trust him or despise the man.
He demands to be adored, nothing matters more to him. His ego demands nothing less. Petty arguments with the press about attendance at his inauguration, about hiring his family members, about the constant expense of protecting he and his family during his countless weekend golf outings, took up far too much of his time. Rather than governing, he tweets insults, watching the morning news and commenting when slighted. He has attacked the press relentlessly, fired the head of the FBI, has something going on with Russia, refused to release his tax reports after promising to do so, has proven to be a racist, placed unproven family members in key government roles with top security clearances, bullied or intimidated anyone who challenges him, and taken the US closer to nuclear war than they have been in decades.
He is the single most dangerous man to ever occupy the Oval Office.
CNN has become Trump TV, their morning news dedicated entirely to whatever nonsense was happening in the White House. What he will leave behind as a legacy? Alec Baldwin at his finest. And reducing America to a laughingstock around the globe.
When Meryl Streep spoke out against Trump at the Golden Globes last year, she was already in discussions with Steven Spielberg to portray Katherine Graham in the soon to be released The Post. In one of those incredible times all parties were available, they shot the film through the summer and it will screen for critics next week. As always Spielberg was having the film edited as he shot, something he has done for years.
To say the buzz is strong is an understatement, the buzz is deafening, through the roof. In perhaps the most timely film of his career Spielberg has made a film that is biographical, but also an allegory for today. Arthur Miller never said he was writing about the McCarthy hearings and witch hunt that swept the United States with the fear of communism when he wrote the Crucible, but everyone knew his target. In writing about 1692 Salem, Miller wrote a scathing, timeless attack on the powers that be about guilt by accusation, guilt by association, blind faith and the power of the mob mentality.
Spielberg’s film is set in the seventies and deals with a unique incident that took place at the Washington Post and New York Times. Each paper got their hands on classified documents about the escalation and futility of the war in Viet Nam. Do they publish knowing they are going to turn their four previous Presidents and Congress into a group of liars? It is the truth, the public has a right to know, of course you publish.
The papers explored in detail that Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson (especially Johnson) and Nixon had misled the American public and country for years with their involvement in Viet Nam. Incredibly Johnson was elected on a platform of not expanding the war but as he was speaking those words he knew full well he would expand the war in less than ten days. Each man was complicit in the lie because they knew the man before them had lied and they must continue it. The papers felt they had an obligation to report the truth, which of course they did.
The government, chiefly President Nixon thought differently and fought back, hard. The government saw to it that the esteemed New York Times was not permitted to print any further coverage of the story, but that same government under estimated the resolve, the searing courage of Katherine Graham.
Katherine Graham was not a newcomer to the newspaper business, her father Eugene Meyer had long owned the Washington Post, widely considered the second greatest newspaper in the United States, behind the Times in New York. She had been working for the times for years, long after she married Graham, who was then trusted with running the paper. When he committed suicide, she assumed his position as President and CEO, and though it was rare to find a woman in that position, she more than proved her mettle. When the Times could not publish the findings of the Pentagon Papers, the Post did, the first major article appearing in June, 1971. Graham trusted her editor Ben Bradlee to do what was right, just as he trusted her to make the right decisions. The government came at the Post, hard, but Graham famously refused to back down, knowing her stance could be the end of The Post.
As The Post is still in existence, the government did not bring her down. But her publishing the findings in the Pentagon Papers, coupled with the Watergate scandal less than a year later, did bring down Nixon and he resigned the presidency in disgrace. Brave, committed to the truth Graham believed, as did her editor Ben Bradlee that the people had the right to know what their government was up too. Like most Americans she was appalled by the realization four Presidents had lied about Viet Nam. She had known these men, dined with them, and was horrified at the betrayal, which I think she took very personal.
Spielberg brought together three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep to portray the courageous Graham and two time Oscar winner Tom Hanks to portray Ben Bradlee, exceptional casting. In the years since Schindler’s List (1993) Spielberg seems unburdened with the pressure of winning that Oscar and being accepted by his peers. The Hollywood establishment long ago opened their arms to Spielberg given the billions he brought to the industry. His peers at the DGA long had admired his work, honouring him with nominations and wins as Best Director in many of the same years the Academy snubbed him. In the twenty-seven years since Schindler’s List (1993) the director has grown as an artist, his work becoming deeper, resonating with great power, many of them films for the ages. He no longer seems afraid of working without a net, or in fear of what critics and academic film writers think, and frankly they too have come around to recognizing him as a great director.
The Post has everything the Academy loves, great actors, great director, exceptional screenplay based on historical subject matter, an urgent timely theme, and in its own way, allows the film industry to collectively speak out against the monster in the Oval Office. The film offers the industry the chance to say the President and the government are wrong, have been wrong before.
The film will ask the most important questions about the necessity of a free press, both in the past, and the urgency of one today. With a narcissistic liar like Trump in office we need a free, truthful press more than ever. How can a nation of people trust their government when it is known that government conceals their actions and information from the very people who vote them into office? Those same people can never consent to a governments actions if they are not properly informed. That is at the heart of the Spielberg film, that and the duty of the press to do the right thing. It is my fervent hope The Post reminds all Americans that government has no place in the reporting of the news. None. The news agencies have every right, and it is their duty to report the facts, but the facts do not always favour the politicians.
The Post will be a great film, how can it not be with the talent involved and their passion for the material? I know, Munich (2005) was pegged to win Best Picture and Best Director, and did not, but it was still a great film. I believe The Post will speak with integrity, honesty and great passion to its subject, and the Academy will recognize this, honouring it with a slew of nominations and, very likely, Best Picture. Whether Spielberg wins Best Director or not depends on whether voters believe his achievement to be greater than that of Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk or Del Toro for The Shape of Water, but if I were a betting man, I would put my money on Spielberg winning his third.