By Charles Chandler
Ed. note: Mr Chandler continues his series on the Oscar nominees and also shares some thoughts the film brought forth.
Moviegoers before you see The Post you should watch The Vietnam War the recently televised documentary directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. This documentary provides factual and graphic details about the Vietnam War and illustrates why the “Pentagon Papers” were so revealing and why such efforts were made by the government to keep them secret.
In my humble opinion, two Academy Award nominations for “The Post” is one too many. Meryl Streep's portrayal of Kay Graham, socialite, and Publisher of the family-owned Washington Post newspaper, is Oscar-worthy, but not so for best Picture, sorry Mr. Spielberg.
“The Post” is a timely movie and story about an epic struggle between the right of the free presses to print the Pentagon Papers and efforts to prevent that happening by members of the White House, and the Courts.Papers which will expose the fact that past presidents and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara knew by 1965 that the Americans could not win a military victory in Vietnam.
The movie drama ramps up after Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) takes a hike with thousands of pages of secret documents containing years of confidential and revealing information about lies the government had told the American people about the Vietnam War. Now after about six years and thousands of US soldiers casualties, the truth of what was known about the futility of the war and the decisions that were made to keep the Americans in the war is about to be revealed by the New York Times. The Times broke the story but the U.S. District Court at the request of the Nixon Administration quickly issued an order to cease further publication. Next, the Washington Post steps into the fray when Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) contacted one of his sources and soon The Post has possession of the same secret documents that the courts forbid the Times to publish. If they ran the story, not only could The Post go out of business but the owners and staff could be arrested for treason.
The two principles of the story are Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), the struggling publisher of the Post and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). Kay is caught between her traditional values and belief that friends, family and old school ties are more important than running a newspaper. She is also constantly surrounded by her snarling pack of advisors and senior staffers (all men) who think she as a woman is incapable of making the right decision for the business or the newspaper. This is a coming of age story for dithering, socialite Kay and the most brilliant, dramatic and emotional moment in the movie is when the Post’s editor Ben Bradlee goes to Kay Graham home where she is having a dinner party and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara is one of her guests.
Editor Bradlee does not dither and argues for publishing the Pentagon Papers and taking the consequences come what may. He points out that Kay cannot live in two worlds, either she can step back into that comfortable dinner party in the room behind her or she can take charge of her destiny and become a newspaperwoman in charge of a great newspaper. Soon her advisors and senior staffers also crash her party and Kay is cornered by this pack of baying hounds. Nowhere to run and nowhere to hide Kay must choose.
Now for a bit of finger-wagging and restating the obvious. As mentioned this is a timely movie and it is strongly recommended that we all watch this movie with a bit of introspection.
Government dishonesty and secrets have always existed, and kings, dictators, tyrants, and duly elected officials will always try to discredit or manipulate the fourth estate. As mentioned this movie is timely because the current administration is at war with the press and their frequent and overt dishonesty is both shameful and pointless. They have created their own brand name “Fake News” for the content they dislike.
It was fascinating to see an old-style print newspaper developed and distributed, but make no mistake that media is dead, so dithering about whether to publishing something has been made irrelevant in our current political environment. Today's mainstream or social media has surely taken sides and be it CNN, Fox, NPR, Breitbart, The Post, Foreign propagandist or any individual with the computer can publish anything. It also appears that this is done without source or fact-checking and often with little fear of penalty. To go further down this road, Tribalism is alive and well and on this issue, it appears we are doing what we always do when our self-affirming cultural environment is challenged or threatened. We circle the wagons around our philosophy, beliefs, tribes, team or party and the leaders of same, often abandoning our espoused values in order to cheer our teams on or follow the party agenda.
For many, strong, free and fair presses are just as important for maintaining our democracy as the armed forces. Commercial and social media content producers and we as consumers must resolve this question: Have facts and truth become irrelevant or been superseded by the team cheer or party line?
So what will it be?
Like it was for Kay Graham as Publisher of The Post, now is our time to choose.
“New York Times Co. v. The United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971), was a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court on the First Amendment. The ruling made it possible for The New York Times and The Washington Post newspapers to publish the then-classified Pentagon Papers without risk of government censorship or punishment.
President Richard Nixon had claimed executive authority to force the Times to suspend publication of classified information in its possession. The question before the court was whether the constitutional freedom of the press, guaranteed by the First Amendment, was subordinate to a claimed need of the executive branch of government to maintain the secrecy of information. The Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment did indeed protect the right of The New York Times to print the materials.”
“While he never issued a formal apology for his role in the quagmire, Robert McNamara, who died in July 2009 at age 93, made clear he was haunted by the blunders made under his watch that cost the lives of thousands of U.S. troops.”People don't want to admit they made mistakes," he explained to the New York Times. "This is true of the Catholic Church, it's true of companies, it's true of nongovernmental organizations and it's certainly true of political bodies."
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