Power, Press and The Post

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By Aaron Motsinger
Last week, Matt and I took a little field trip away from our desks to head over to our friendly neighborhood Alamo Drafthouse and see The Post, one of the most anticipated films of the year. As friends and colleagues have asked for my review in the time since, I’ve struggled to clearly articulate my thoughts and opinions on it.

“Is it good?” It’s not Meryl Streep’s, Tom Hanks’ or Steven Spielberg’s best work, but it’s Streep, Hanks and Spielberg. How could it not be good?

“Will I like it?” I mean, the first half of the movie is pretty densely packed with the insider baseball involved with the business of running a newspaper, sooooo…can’t say for sure.

“Will it win any Oscars?” Meh, probably not.

“Should I see it?” Absolutely.

The decisiveness of that final answer stems from my reflection since the showing that this is perhaps the perfect movie for our time. At its core, it’s a salient reminder of the original, unfailing mission and intent of journalism: To hold those with power, money and control accountable.

Like Spotlight two years ago, it’s a poignant historical representation of the courage, tenacity, fortitude and integrity that it takes for real publishers and journalists to serve the public under the purpose of a Constitutionally-guaranteed free press. The parallels are striking to this day and age, where the President threatens news outlets on a weekly basis (in very Nixonian fashion), leakers from Snowden to startup developers put everything on the line for the sake of transparency, lawsuits from media bullies abound and yet sound journalism endures.

Kay Graham (owner and publisher of The Washington Post, portrayed by Streep), Ben Bradlee (The Post’s executive editor at the time, played by Hanks) and a newsroom full of relentless Post editors and reporters were the predecessors to today’s most persistent and committed journalists, like Maggie Haberman, The New York Times’ White House correspondent; Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey and others who helped shine a light on #MeToo; Olivia Zaleski, who broke open the Hampton Creek story; Mike Isaac, who has chronicled Uber’s many troubles; and scores of other pros who embrace their duty to hold the powerful in check across government, entertainment, tech and all manner of industries. As PR counsel, it’s rarely enjoyable to find yourself in a crisis situation where an executive or client company has made a misstep and needs to be held accountable by those journalists, but damnit, you have to respect them for doing their job and doing it right.

Not to take anything away from the device reviewers, restaurant critics and clickbaiters of the media world – they are all integral contributors to keeping publications afloat – but it’s dedicated reporters like those depicted in The Post that carry the torch for pure journalism. We could use more like them. If nothing else, amidst the drama and dialog, the film inspiringly reminds us where that torch was lit and why none of us can afford to let it flame out.

image by Daniel X. O’Neil from USA – Washington, DC, June 2011: The Washington Post, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16143874
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