The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. This opinion was delivered by Chief Justice Black in 1971 when the Nixon administration tried to stop the New York Times and The Washington Post from publishing a classified report called the Pentagon Papers about American involvement in Southeast Asia.
The US Supreme Court backed the freedom of the press against the government. In his opinion, Justice Black underlined the First Amendment – The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments, and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty shall be inviolable.
46 years later, the freedom of the press is under siege across the globe. Which is why Steven Spielberg’s drama resonates so strongly. Spielberg, with the aid of terrific actors including Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, chronicles the days that lead up to the Post, then largely a local newspaper, publishing the papers.
A Google search will tell you how the story played out but Spielberg sets up the drama as a suspense thriller, which runs alongside the narrative of the coming-of-age of the Post’s publisher Katharine Graham. Katharine, played by Streep, inherited the paper when her husband committed suicide. She was thrown into the deep end without any training or experience. As the top boss, Graham must decide to whether to publish and incur the wrath of the government and possibly jeopardise the company. Her courage is exemplary as is Streep’s performance – she beautifully captures Graham’s steely resolve and her vast insecurities.
Let me warn you – if like me, you aren’t familiar with these events, it will take some time to warm into the story. The characters and plot might be confusing but hang in there. Because The Post slowly tightens its vice-like grip. Hanks, as the Post’s legendary editor Ben Bradlee, is memorably growly. The period touches are wonderful as is the supporting cast. The Post is a traditional drama in the best sense of the word.
It’s also a rallying cry and an inspiration. Spielberg and writers Liz Hannah and Josh Singer who also wrote Spotlight, make an eloquent argument for a free and fair press and for courageous media company owners who are willing to speak truth to power. In the current scenario, especially in India, this seems almost as much of a fantasy as a Marvel superhero movie. Which is why The Post needs to be seen. I’m going with four stars.