“The Post,” contrary to what many may think, does not refer to what is written on social media.
“The Post” was a movie starring two of my favorite actors, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. In fact, Hanks and Streep could have my vote for the best actors of all time —including Bogart and all the rest.
“The Post,” for those who were alive during Watergate in the early ‘70s (or were too young to care) refers to The Washington Post, at one time a family-owned newspaper run by Katherine Graham and edited by Ben Bradlee.
Two young reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, became famous for breaking the Watergate scandal with the help of an FBI agent whose identity was hidden for many years by the code name “Deep Throat.”
“The Post” (movie) takes place just a year before the break in to the Democratic offices in the Watergate building.
It is about the Pentagon Papers, which were leaked by a reporter to The New York Times and The Washington Post. The papers were a multi-volume report commissioned by then-Secretary of State Robert McNamara. The report detailed how the U.S. government covered up the fact that the United States could not win in Vietnam and yet kept throwing people and equipment at the North Vietnamese, presumably to avoid the humiliation coming from the U.S. losing its first war in history. This cover up went back decades to the Truman administration and included every President up to Nixon.
“The Post” has a couple side stories that would be of most interest to people in journalism.
At the time the so-called Pentagon Papers were leaked, The Washington Post was going public, offering shares for $24.50 to raise $1.3 million to pay 25 of the best reporters the newspaper could find (including, presumably, Woodward and Bernstein.)
One standard clause in the stock offer was that investors could pull out under certain conditions. When the court ordered The New York Times to stop printing excerpts of the Pentagon Papers, The Washington Post obtained a copy and Graham and Bradlee then wrestled with the paper’s lawyers about publishing or not publishing the Pentagon Papers while The New York Times appealed the injunction.
So, Graham had to make a decision that would affect the future of her company.
Also, she was very good friends with the McNamaras and other Washington leaders. Bradlee had been very close to John F. Kennedy and the Bradlees were present to meet Jackie Kennedy when she returned from Dallas after Kennedy’s assassination.
“I considered Jack a friend, not a source,” Bradlee’s character says in the film.
Another situation that every journalist is familiar with involved members of The Post gathered in Bradlee’s home, trying to piece together the Pentagon Papers because the page numbers had been cut off along with the words. “Top Secret.”
I spent more than one night in a newsroom, trying to track down a source so we could get a localized story on the front page before deadline. Response from a local college professor after the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole by al-Qaida in 2000 comes to mind. Unfortunately, I’ve never worked on a story nearly as big as the Pentagon Papers, but the sense of urgency, bordering on panic, is something reporters can understand.
I’ll not give away the ending but “The Post,” like all of Hanks’ movies, is very satisfying and carries the lesson, “Those who refuse to study history are doomed to repeat it.”
Best wishes to the current generation. May we learn from the past.