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A fun thought experiment to play when watching the trailer for The Post is to guess how many Oscar nominations this film might get next year—Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, the list could ostensibly go on and on. With Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks stepping in as late Washington Post owner Katharine Graham and journalist Ben Bradlee, and with Steven Spielberg in the director’s chair, The Post outlines the Post’s race to blow the lid off the government’s cover-up of the Pentagon Papers before The New York Times.
Katharine Graham (Streep) assumed the role of publisher at the Washington Post after her husband Philip Graham—the publisher and co-owner of the Post—committed suicide in 1963. She became the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, overseeing its Watergate coverage by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. An odd couple of sorts, Graham worked with executive editor Bradlee, played by Hanks in the film, to uncover the truth behind the Pentagon Papers*.
The Pentagon Papers were highly classified documents outlining secret information about American involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. The Pentagon Papers also detailed secret United States bombings in Cambodia and Laos. Mainstream American media did not report on the United States Department of Defense’s study, known as the Pentagon Papers until June 1971, when they were released in part to the New York Times by activist David Ellsberg, and were not fully released and declassified until 2011.
While the Freedom of the Press is protected by the First Amendment in the United States Constitution, Graham and Bradlee risked their careers and their lives, and could have gone to prison for their investigation of the United States government after receiving threats from the Richard M. Nixon administration to cease their publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The film’s themes of gender inequity in the workplace, espionage and government leaks resonate today. In the wake of Ronan Farrow’s recent exposé on Harvey Weinstein’s “army of spies” and intelligence agents who intimidation tactics against reporters seeking to uncover the truth, and as reporters heed the cries of “fake news” from President Trump in 2017, the release of The Post could not be more timely.
A star-studded supporting cast including Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, David Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons, Matthew Rhys, Michael Stuhlbarg, Bradley Whitford and Zach Woods aid in telling the story of the Post’s exposure of over 30 years’ worth of government secrets.