“In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”
by Dr. Laura Wilhelm, LauraWil Intercultural
Hollywood, CA (The Hollywood Times) 12/23/17 – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black’s landmark 1971 opinion affirming the right of THE NEW YORK TIMES and THE WASHINGTON POST to publish the Pentagon Papers resounds at the end of Steven Spielberg’s new movie THE POST starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in typically superb performances as POST newspaper publishers Katharine (Kay) Graham and Ben Bradlee. The survival of Graham’s family newspaper was at stake and she and Bradlee could very well have been convicted of felony charges and gone to jail by making this controversial decision.
The Nixon Administration sought to prevent publication of classified documents detailing the secret history of US involvement in French Indochina and Vietnam during the course of four US presidencies. Those documents made it clear that all of these administrations were untruthful with the American public about the deadly events later detailed in the Pentagon Papers.
The TIMES had the story first and the POST raced to catch up. Spielberg’s film confirms essential truths about First Amendment rights to freedom of the press and the continuing need of courageous people to exercise them in the USA.
Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are already being compared with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in these vivid roles based on real life. Streep magically manages to combine elements of her star turn as the grande dame publisher Miranda Priestly of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA with the passion of her early Emmy-winning performance as the conscience-driven German wife of a Jewish artist in the long-ago Holocaust mini-series that presaged her later string of onscreen triumphs. The sixty-something Hanks looks fit, fabulous, and much younger than his years.
Oscar nominations are almost assured for Streep, Hanks, Spielberg, and THE POST thanks to the opportune timing of their message in Trump’s America. Today on the date of the film’s release in LA, audience members at the ArcLight Hollywood were applauding, cheering, and weeping throughout the artful plot twists and turns. Making brief appearances are Bruce Greenwood (THIRTEEN DAYS), Sarah Paulson (AMERICAN CRIME STORY), and Bradley Whitford (THE WEST WING) from former high-quality political and legal film and television productions.
The bubble-coiffed Katharine Graham died in 2001 shortly after winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 at the age of 80 for her memoir PERSONAL HISTORY. Deborah Davis’s 1979 biography is fittingly titled KATHARINE THE GREAT.
Graham was the first female publisher of a major newspaper and first woman Fortune 500 CEO. Tall and gawky like Julia Child and scarred by her mother’s sarcasm and mentally unstable husband’s suicide, she may never have expected anything like a glamorous life, let alone lasting fame.
As THE POST points out, the hyper-wealthy Grahams were important members of the Washington social scene and counted many US Presidents and First Ladies among their close friends. Such personal intimacy with politicians later became unacceptable for journalists.
Mrs. Graham’s story sets a new bar for women everywhere. Publication of the Pentagon Papers and coverage of the Watergate scandal with the help of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein eventually ended the Nixon presidency. Graham’s key role in the matter is finally coming to light.
The Pentagon Papers and Watergate scandal still symbolize the loss of America’s innocence to many. Dramatic overseas developments in Asia and Russia during the Nixon Administration ignited this reporter’s lifelong obsession with international relations and world affairs.
Kay Graham’s little family paper was feared by the powerful and revered by the powerless. She and Ben Bradlee literally helped to define modern investigative journalism. Inspired by the women’s movement, Graham fearlessly promoted gender equality at THE WASHINGTON POST.
As the Harvey Weinstein scandal illustrates, the idea of a free people informed by a free press in an open marketplace applies equally to the world of entertainment. Abuses of power will always take place, and it is up to the American press and the American people to challenge the perpetrators in print so justice will prevail.
As of 2013 THE WASHINGTON POST has been owned by Amazon multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos. Here’s hoping that Katharine Graham’s proud spirit and undying passion for the truth will continue to drive the publication forward into an uncertain future.