Although The Post has now spent over two weeks in cinemas, the themes it addresses remain pertinently current. The events it portrays, the publication and subsequent fallout from the leaked Pentagon Papers in the early 1970s, mirror the bitter President-press relations currently dominating almost every daily news bulletin.
That became even more relevant this week as Fox commentator Howard Kurtz waded into the fray with his book on the Trump administration’s turbulent relationship with the press, ‘Media Madness’, published on Monday. It comes just a few weeks after Michael Wolff’s controversial book ‘Fire and Fury’, a tell-all account of the bizarre goings-on within the Trump White House, became available to the world.
In fact, the film was produced quickly so as to retain those clear correlations when it came to release, although the “war over the truth” (as Kurtz describes it) shows no signs of reaching a peace treaty anytime soon. Cast and crew mobilized last March to get the film pushed through the pipeline as swiftly as possible.
Despite its hurried production, the Spielberg film, featuring Hollywood demigods Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in leading roles, has received rave reviews.
The film depicts the events of 1971, after military analyst and whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg leaked documents from a study into American involvement in Vietnam that included evidence of systematic misinformation across three decades and four different presidential administrations.
Stories on the papers were initially published by the New York Times and were swiftly hit by an injunction by Richard Nixon. The Washington Post, clamouring to join the Times in the big leagues of print journalism and having acquired the papers themselves, then have to decide whether to run their own stories and fulfil their First Amendment duties to the public or avoid the inevitable legal battle that could threaten the very future of the paper.
The tension of the discussions between editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) and first American female publisher Kay Graham (Streep), along with other people at the paper’s helm, is supplemented by an ominous John Williams score and the use of real Nixon audio, which transforms him into a tangible villain.
The film is therefore a worthy conduit for the pertinent questions surrounding politics and the freedom of the press that have been circulating since Trump’s rise to power.
In Kurtz’s latest book, for example, the author looks to provide balanced analysis of Trump’s ongoing struggle with the press.
While he acknowledges that Trump is sometimes loose in the ideas he portrays and the language with which he portrays them, he apportions blame for Trump’s nonchalant approach to the truth to his embodiment of the attitudes of the disenchanted white voters who secured his presidency. He consequently criticizes the media’s erroneous literal coverage of Trump.
Notably, Kurtz’s own interpretation of the truth has been called into question before. He was fired by the Daily Beast for falsely accusing NBA player Jason Collins of concealing the fact that he was once engaged to a woman in the article in which he came out as gay.
By and large, Kurtz points out a very many shortcomings of the media’s coverage of the president (only pulling some punches for his current employers, Fox) and disappointingly few of Trump’s.
In a world where Trump responded to Michael Wolff’s provocative book earlier this month with pledges to strengthen the country’s libel laws (which he is not actually able to do without a constitutional amendment or Supreme Court ruling), The Post is a timely and skilfully-delivered reminder of the importance of the press for holding the most powerful people in the world to account.