Triumph For The Fourth Estate

In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam war, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the founders hoped and trusted they would do. Supreme Court Justice Black, 1971

The very watchable Post

By Roger Childs

The Vietnam War was the one the Americans lost. That humiliating defeat still hangs heavily on the national conscience.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the media played a crucial part in encouraging the rising opposition to the country’s continuing involvement in Indochina, not least with the publication of the Pentagon Papers.

This is what The Post is all about and it is an exciting story without the need to take any cinematic licence.

The early sections take some sorting out, however once the issues and motives become clear, the tension builds to a stunning climax as the Washington Post presses roll. Four stars.

Meryl Streep leads the way

She plays Katherine Graham, who became the publisher of The Washington Post after her husband died. It is 1971 and the media industry is definitely a man’s world, so Graham is surrounded by egotistical males who think they know best.

She mixes easily in Washington society and knows plenty of rich and influential people, but is diffident about her role as publisher, especially as The Post, is a relatively small paper compared with giants like the New York Times.

Streep does a very good job in the transformation of Katherine Graham from manipulated figurehead into decision making boss. The rest of the cast is also impressive, mainly men of course!, led by Tom Hanks as the pugnacious editor Ben Bradlee.

Tension and humour

Much of the movie is set in the Post’s offices as people dash backwards and forwards using the technology of the time: typewriters, phones, photocopiers and linotype-setters.  There is plenty of tension throughout, especially as Graham mulls over whether the paper should publish top secret material.

Robert McNamara, who was Defence Secretary in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, was the author of the revelations. He is well known to Graham, and there are couple of tense exchanges between the two.

Towards the end, as the pace quickens, humour lightens the tension. There is a chaotic scene in Bradlee’s front room as the journalists and sub-editors rifle through the photocopies unearthing gems from publication. The Bradlee’s daughter has been selling lemonade on the front step and at one point, as staff pour into the house, she comes through in the hallway with her sign. She had made a fortune from her sales!

Political significance

While The Post staff prepare their big scoop and await Katherine Graham’s decision, President Nixon is fuming.

He features a few times, but very effectively just as a shadowy figure and voice on the phone behind the windows of the White House.

This is a well edited and very watchable movie, which builds to a satisfying climax. And there is a lovely political touch at the end which, for once, the Americans don’t overdo!