Flicks to Hold You Over... "The Post"
Eric Renderking Fisk | January 2018
Three biases walk into a bar and have a couple of drinks over Ren's latest "Flick To Hold You Over..."
I’ll admit to some bias to this review of “The Post,” the latest motion picture directed by Steven Spielberg. The first bit of bias comes from being a huge fan of some of a few of his films in particular and as someone who enjoys almost every film he’s ever directed and produced. He has a populist way of making movies, meaning that they are accessible and enjoyable for a broad audience and tend to be about ordinary people put into extraordinary circumstances or about how extraordinary people become so.
For me, the greatest movie of all time was directed by Steven Speilberg. There is proof enough that this rant about this moive is going to be a little biased before the first step.
My second source of bias comes in the form of my love of Government Conspiracy Lore, especially from the Vietnam/Watergate era. There's something to be said about a movie or book that tackles the fact that the government leaders knew "something bad is happening over there" and that our side was losing then lied about it to the people to the extent of "Hey, we're winning over there, we need a few more good men!"
Or, put more simply - The Government knew the truth, lied about it and then covered the lies... simple as that. Then there is the issue, what do you do when you know the government lied or is lying now? What do you do with that information?
Thirdly, there are aspects of "The Post" that spoke to me directly as the webmaster of The Fedora Chronicles, especially when I'm confronted with people telling me what I should and shouldn't do with this website. There were times when I was told by people who care a lot about me and my family what articles I can and can't publish and warned me about the consequence. "The Post" reminded me in too many scenes of people trying to pull me in too many directions all at once, just as many of the characters tried to pull Meryl Streep's version of Kay Graham in this movie...
... But I'm getting ahead of myself. My reivew of this film is biased three ways from Saturday, and I totally admit it.
The entire movie centers around The Washington Post shortly before The Watergate Saga, the time when that newspaper was struggling to keep publishing and remain financially viable. As the movie begins, The Post is struggling to merely play "catch-up" with other papers like "The New York Times" and other publications, struggling to remain relevant.
At the same time, there's Daniel Ellsberg, the United States military analyst who was an employee of The RAND cooperation who stole documents from his employer. All these documents were reports from within the government that illustrated concerns from four United States Presidents and their staff that the situation in Vietnam was a disaster and the war there was unwinnable. There was no way that The United States could intervene in what was an internal civil war between two halves of a divided nation.
What was later called "The Pentagon Papers" proved that four American Presidents knew the situation was impossible but threw resources and the lives of young Americans at a problem that couldn't be solved...
"The Post" explores an ethical dilemma that the owner of The Washington Times faced; knowing that the documents were stolen and there was already a court order demanding that one paper not publish articles about their content, do you face possible criminal publication and the charges of treason and publish your own articles about the content of those documents because you know should know the truth?
The final conflict or the climax of the debate between The Post owner Mrs. Graham and her handleres versis Ben Bradlee - what do you actually do when faced with the impossible dilemma? How do you decide about whether to play it safe and continue to lag other newspapers while covering your ass, or do you go out on a limb in the name of "The First Amendment," journalistic integrity and the truth that the public needs to know to remain informed?
What do you do when you must publish a news story that you know puts an old friend in bad light, understanding full well would happen next to that friend who clearly did something wrong?
Regardless of the consequences to everyone involved, do you do what's right? In hindsight the answer is easy... but in practice?
If any publisher has with-in their possession a shoebox or a moving crate full of documents that are damning since they prove the government is lying about something important, do you exploit that?
I saw "The Post" while taking a break for doing research on the topic of The FISA Memo, a document that might prove that agents within The Federal Bureau of Investigations tried to rig the 2016 Presidential Election and thwarted an investigation into the bad behavior of a candidate that they favored to win. As of this date of writing this review, there is a lot of speculation of what's in the memo and who it might make look bad if the public ever read it. Couple this with a string of personal messages back and forth between two FBI agents who were having an affair and their mishandling of the investigation and their possible involvement in some cover-up...
... This current controversy might overshadow or completely eclipse "The Pentagon Papers" and "Watergate" for the worst thing to happen within the Federal Government. The content of the "FISA Memo" could rewrite the past 10 years of American History and ruin the reputation of at least one former American President.
What if, hypothetically, that Eric Renderking Fisk of The Fedora Chronicles was sent a copy of the memo... would I do anything with it? Would I do what's right and inform the American people? Would I do what's right but for the wrong reasons and exploit it to put this website on a different stratum, remembering all the times I've been in trouble before?
Would I publish a classified memo that illustrates abuses within the FBI and Department of Justice’s surveillance program? Like I speculated about the dangers of a prior government program within Transportation Security Administration?
In the "The Post," that's exactly the dilemma faced by the main characters in this movie; how do you get the documents and what do you do when you finally have them in procession. And can "The Press" be trusted to do the right thing for the right reasons?
Thus, is why - according to this movie anyway - Mrs. Graham was a hero because she did the right thing for the right reason. In this charged political environment I'm not sure that would happen in the 2010's.
As an aside... if you're a movie junkie like me and you want to classify this differently, it's the perfect 'prequel' to "All The President's Men..." that in itself is one of the best motion pictures of all time, not just one of the best movies on journalism.
If anything, "The Post" reaffirmed what I always thought and believed about myself and my life's mission. It's the first time in a long time that a movie actually spoke to me as a publisher of a website.
Now, how about you? Have you seen "The Post?" do you have memories of "The Pentagon Papers" and "Watergate?" Let us know in the comment section below! Don't forget to check out earlier "Flicks To Hold You Over" and my review of "In Retrospect" and "The Fog Of War" with Robert S. McNamara.