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'The Post' Reminds Us That the President Is Not King

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

If you have ever waited anxiously for a court decision, then you know what it felt like to be at the Washington Post on June 30, 1971.

That moment also serves as the climax for the "The Post," a movie about how the newspaper survived court scrutiny to publish the Pentagon Papers. President Richard Nixon tried to stop publication of the classified documents, which exposed how the United States muddied itself in the Vietnam War.

"In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam war, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the founders hoped and trusted they would do," Justice Harry Blackmun said. "[T]he press was to serve the governed, not the governors."

The Story

The screenplay approaches the story primarily from the perspective of Katharine Graham, who became publisher of the award-winning newspaper after her husband committed suicide. She was not prepared for the task, especially at a time when few women ran major newspapers.

A federal court issued an injunction to stop the New York Times from publishing the papers, and Graham had to decide whether to publish them in her family-owned paper. The lawyers said she could be found in contempt of court and sent to jail.

"Let's go," she said in the crucible of a deadline and the balance between freedom of the press and national security. "We publish."

There is little action in those words or in the whirring of the presses that sent the still-wet newsprint onto the streets of Washington. And there is no real tension in waiting for the outcome because, after all, it is well-known history. The drama is really built on how one woman decided to make the U.S. government accountable for leading a country to war.

The Cast

Meryl Streep plays the reticent publisher and Tom Hanks is her hard-nosed editor, Ben Bradlee. With Stephen Spielberg directing, the movie will certainly garner Oscar nominations.

But perhaps Liz Hannah, the screenwriter, deserves the most credit. In the David v. Goliath tale, some said she "pulled off a miracle."

"Up until this point, Hannah's biggest claim to fame was as a production assistant on Ugly Betty," the ScriptShadow said. "It just goes to show that if you put in the hard work, keep writing, and keep getting better at this wacky craft known as screenwriting, good things can happen."

Even the New York Times, a longtime rival, had to give a nod to the Hollywood ending. Reviewer Manohla Dargis wrote, "shaping a drama around a newspaper that didn't break the story seems an odd path to Hollywood triumphalism."

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