Watergate, MP’s Expenses Scandal, Catholic Church Abuse scandal, Olympic Games state sponsored doping, the News of the World phone hacking scandal… All are very well known cases of investigative journalism, which had a dramatic effect and showed the importance of such events in any democracy.
The Post sets about another infamous case of investigative journalism, which led to the riotous happenings in America, as the movement to bring their troops home from the controversial war in Vietnam gathered pace and strength.
There is a brief look at what was happening in one section of Vietnam in 1966, remember that because it’s important, which then leads to a conversation with US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, before an all too brief glimpse of him telling the gathered press at the airport he returns to, what he thinks they need to hear, which of course, is far from the truth.
Because of the lying, correspondent Daniel Ellsberg decides to steal the documents he has been working on, so the truth can be told, whatever the consequences may be to him personally.
Jump forward to 1971 and enter Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham, admirably portrayed by the excellent Meryl Streep and Editor Ben Bradlee, played by the somewhat miscast Tom Hanks. The scenes with these two, and there are plenty of them, are well acted and very cutting edge tense, as the protagonist and the catalyst struggle with the decisions they are faced with, due to the intense pressure from the Richard Nixon White House.
While Hanks is clearly miscast, he does try his best to be the hard, grizzled executive editor who has seen it all before and is standing up for the right of the media to assert the right to publish, as framed in the first amendment in the US Constitution. However the genuine star is undoubtedly Ms Streep who, with all due attention to detail and obvious style and class, embodies the role of the inexperienced publisher, who was never a journalist, but showing what would be the inescapable consequences of her actions, when taking on the most powerful man in the world and either not winning or, indeed losing in the worst way possible.
What this film inescapably captures very well, is the reality of the importance of a free press in a democracy, as the post and the New York Times fight bitterly to hold Nixon and several predecessors in the White House to account for lying to the country about the Vietnam war, therefore showing the difficulties that arise for any journalist who wants to tell the truth about anything that could cause ructions in the corridors of power anywhere in the world.
Producer/Director Steven Spielberg again weaves his magic as the story keeps posing questions, moving at exactly the right pace and showing just about every angle that any journalist(s) will take, to get to the truth and hold those deemed responsible to account, there is also a nod to the Watergate scandal, which led to Nixon’s resignation, at the very end of the film.
Based on true events, it is perhaps a film that anybody who is unsure of the power of a truly free press should watch, if only to get some idea of the daily graft that goes into serving the governed, rather than the governors. It is, with the odd bit of wishywashy forgiven, a truly dynamic, obsessive film which portrays what could arguably be termed, the birth of the free press and how complicated it can get.