Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Post (2017)

The foundation of a democracy is a free press.  The government needs to be held accountable and the way to do this is to have an independent group reporting on not only current issues but on what the government is doing.  It’s understandable that a government would want to hold secrets, especially when it’s at war, but sometimes, those secrets need to be exposed.

Vietnam wasn’t some minor indiscretion.  American involvement was spread out over three presidential administrations.  There was all manner of documentation generated by the United States Government admitting that it may have made a mistake.

Enter Daniel Ellsberg, a former analyst who copies what would become known as The Pentagon Papers.  He passes them on to The New York Times.  When The Times is bared from publishing them, The Washington Post decides to pick up the torch.  When the lawyers are called in, they promptly express fear that the same thing might happen to The Post.  The decision is eventually made to run with the story.

The decision takes The Post to the Supreme Court right next to The Times.  Being that this is history, I don’t imagine that any of this is a surprise.  It should also come as no surprise that both newspapers are exonerated.  It was decided that both papers had done exactly what they were supposed to have done, which was to report the truth to the American people.

The decision ultimately rested on Kay Graham, who took over the paper when her husband died.  The movie has her in the middle of an IPO.  She’s worried about the exact asking price, as more money would mean a secure payroll for quality reporters.  The movie initially has her shown as somewhat weak, often unsure of herself.

I don’t imagine that this was an easy time for her. It’s bad enough having to plan for a major change to the paper, but to have to add an unexpected twist?  Publishing could mean arrests and, possibly, the end of The Washington Post.  She has to balance the business of the newspaper against the ethics of journalism.  The First Amendment is the first one for a reason.  That doesn’t matter, though, if there’s no one there to report the issues.

One thing I found a little odd was that the price of the stock was mentioned in dollars and cents.  Stock prices converted to decimal on April 9, 2001.  Before that, stock prices were listed in fractions of a dollar.  $42.50 would have been shown on a ticker as $42½.  It’s possible that people still said forty-two dollars and fifty cents, but it stuck out to me because I‘m old enough to remember it the old way.

The movie ends with the break-in at the Watergate Hotel, which ended Nixon’s presidency.  (At least he got to keep the dog.  Right?)   The release of the movie during the current presidential administration might be somewhat coincidental, but the message is still clear:  We need journalists to keep us informed.  The movie wasn’t preachy about it.  It wasn’t necessarily edge-of-your-seat material, either, but it was entertaining.  I would recommend seeing the movie.

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