“The way they lied, those days have to be over.”
The new trailer for Steven Spielberg’s The Post, which arrives in theaters on Dec. 22, holds up history like a deep, dark truthful mirror.
Just months after our sitting president attacked the free press as “the enemy of the American people” and began relentlessly disparaging as “fake news” all reporting that does not celebrate him, Spielberg takes a look back to the summer of 1971 when another American president shattered norms by taking action to silence the media.
Thousands of pages of secret documents about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, documenting from the end of World War II until 1967, were leaked to The New York Times, which began publishing them in a series that became known as The Pentagon Papers. President Richard Nixon responded to the leak by securing a court order that barred the newspaper from publishing after only a handful of stories were printed.
Spielberg’s film picks up as The Washington Post, headed by publisher Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), must grapple with whether to begin publishing the reports themselves — at the risk of garnering the same swift shut down, or worse, if the Nixon administration decided to make an example of them.
It’s an “I am Spartacus” story, with The Washington Post, which gives the film its name, standing up in support when a fellow publication was at risk. It’s a story of rivals uniting to defy an onslaught none of them could weather alone. It’s a story about why it’s better to know than not, why some secrets that are in the leadership’s interest are not in the nation’s interest.
Although America learned this lesson 46 years ago, it couldn’t hurt to get a refresher.