treize64 (treize64) wrote,

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"Wouldn't you go to prison to stop this war?"

To be quite honest, surprise rushed its way to the front of the crowd of emotions and opinions I had as I watched The Post. I'd known it was going to be a newspaper movie, in the tradition of All the President's Men and Spotlight, but, despite the timeliness (or, perhaps, timelessness) of its themes, it struck me as hollow. Here, I must admit that disappointment threaded itself around the surprise. The beginning is set in Vietnam, and I'd expected, perhaps in misguided fashion, to eventually find us transported to the present day. Alas, Vietnam remains the focus of the film. The folly, the dissemination. The breakdown of relations between the government and a press that had, for much of the postwar period, become its mouthpiece, rather besotted with Kennedy's Camelot and eager to maintain relations and access throughout his successor's tenure. It rings a little hollow given the particular genre of calamity that afflicts the press now, but also disappointing was the tonedeafness. Movies valorizing the press that come out in 2018 happen in the context of increasing awareness of the overwhelming whiteness of newsrooms, their failure of fair and incisive coverage of police-involved shootings of unarmed Americans, their ceding the task of uncovering government waste and corruption in foreign wars to outside actors like The Intercept and Melville House Books.

It seems perhaps the most dynamic press story is a recounting of its own failures, the insularity and the myopia that have led to the present state of affairs where the White House press pool is little more than a farce, and the breaking of stories like The Panama Papers are done by coalitions like The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Season 5 of The Wire provides a fascinating portrait of the decline of local news, the idea that the people supposedly tasked with sounding the alarm on government failings has rusted or fallen apart due to market forces and executive focus on prestige markers like the Pulitzer Prize.

The Post, helmed by Spielberg and with performances from Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks and Michael Stuhlbarg and a wonderfully grave yet nervy Matthew Rhys, has all the ingredients for Oscar bait. Perhaps its failing is its top-down view. The thrill of movies like All the President's Men and Spotlight came from its Roadie Run view of reporters scrambling to unlock a mystery bigger than themselves. News as justice. In The Post, the protagonists are sadly vanilla. They are a protagonist and deuteragonist who more or less agree and whose chief antagonist is Nixon's back seen in two paltry, two-dimensional scenes.

Perhaps the more compelling story and the one more reflective of our times would be a dramatization of Gene Demby's August 2015 pulse-taking in NPR on black reporters chronicling the targeting and death of their own people. Who is the enemy here? Of course, there is an increasingly militarized police state, but there is also a scenario wherein the Katherine Grahams and Ben Bradlees are the enemy. Or, if not chief antagonists, then enablers of conflict. But such would require a self-awareness in Hollywood and in the news media that is, as in so many American institutions, sorely lacking.

I do think, though, that if the story were ever to be made of journalism taking a hard look at its own failure, making itself the story and realizing that the objectivity it has quested for and hidden behind has been mere scaffolding for its own deterioration, we might finally have the story of our Times.
Tags: film, journalism, movies, news, storytelling

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