Dec 19 2017

New Spielberg movie takes journalism as its theme

The upcoming Steven Spielberg movie The Post, looking at the Washington Post during the publication of a whistleblower’s account of the Vietnam War, illustrates the fact that journalistic ethics win out, a review in the New Republic said.

“But as a movie about journalism, The Post substitutes righteousness for suspense, and legal and financial distresses for the paranoid dread that marks the classics of the genre, which happen to have been made during and just after the Nixon administration,” the review said.

In that sense, it is rare to see a Hollywood film tackle the fact that a news outlet’s relationships with the establishment in the country it comes from and the necessity that it survive in a competitive marketplace are more often the sources of the dangerous tendency towards self-censorship than the secretive forces of the deep state.

One reason for this, as the review points out, is that it lacks the drama of the older tropes:

“Will (Secretary of Defence Robert) McNamara stop coming over for supper if Graham publishes the Pentagon Papers? This is one of the central moral conundrums in The Post, and it’s difficult to care.”

The Pentagon Papers theme also has contemporary echoes: the whistleblowing of McNamara has its modern equivalent in the leaks of Chelsea Manning, and the review points out that the U.S. press corps once more has a Nixon-esque president who seeks to bully the press rather than work with it.

The review reminds us that to the extent that the 1960s were a golden age of journalism “the real heroes were the whistleblowers and reporters, and that’s no slight to the real risks editors and publishers like (The Washington Post’s) Bradlee and Graham took”.

This is all delivered with a typical dose of Spielberg sentimentality, which will appeal to many and put off others: the reviewer though fears that “that’s not the spirit that will flip the House or the Senate in 2018 or the White House in 2020”.