Columns

The Subterranean: ‘The Post’ and journalism’s golden era

**** out of five stars

Currently in theaters

by Walter G. Tarrow

Let’s take a trip down memory lane. Back half a century to a time when America still held on to its greatness.

A different time than now when the president had enough integrity and was sufficiently secure in his beliefs, values and having done the right things for our nation, to trust and respect, and not fear, the Fourth Estate, the press. 

 

A time when investigative journalists worked hard, strove deep, to get to the truth. And the truth, above all else, mattered. And those news gatherers, those media soldiering heroes were lauded, were praised and were entrusted by us all with keeping our government, our leaders, open and honest, and in service to the greatest nation on Earth.

Decades before meaningless, sensational tabloid clickbait overstimulated and overwhelmed our senses, our brains tagged with his mindless endless tweets of #FAKE NEWS.

When those holding the highest offices in the land welcomed the scrutiny and even joined hands with those observing and recording their accomplishments, their achievements for the betterment of these great UnitedStates of ours.

A time when JFK and Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Post, were buddies. And Katharine “Kay” Graham, the Post’s publisher, regularly dined with LBJ. And Robert McNamara, as Secretary of Defense, considered Kay a confidant. And we the people appreciated the fruits of these friendships in being kept informed and aware and, as such, involved in our democracy.

Then things changed. Someone found a buried truth. Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers. And under a president who was duplicitous, suspicious, and distrustful, and hateful of the light of truth, the press came under attack. Petty recriminations and personal insults were levied by our supreme leader against the New York Times and the Washington Post to the extent of denying their reporters access to public events, even, spitefully, his daughter’s wedding.

These politically motivated attacks came from the President’s fear of the uncovering of ongoing collusion with the architects and executors of the believed to be winless Vietnam War. In desperation he weaponized the Justice Department to obstruct the release of these reports, memos, and analyses and the intrepid crews of our once free press fought the battle all the way to the Supreme Court.

This political thriller gets its thrills, not from car chases or covert assassinations, but, in true journalistic fashion, from getting to the truth through the investigative process, through meeting deadlines at the last second, and of putting reputations and the very existence of the Post on the line. The film’s tension comes from making the truly monumental decision of whether or not to “bury the lede,” running to meet that deadline across a busy city street to the Times building or awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court.

Tom Hanks as Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Kay Graham lead a well oiled ensemble. And The Post captures the feel of that place, that time, those people in a way to make it relevant now more than ever.

Steven Spielberg gives Baby Boomers a film for our generation, but one that must be watched also by Millennials and today’s youth, if only to show them that there was a time when this great nation of ours had a free press. Before the deserved pride of “Your Most Trusted News Source” gave way to the defensive sham of “fair and balanced.”

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