Movie Review: “The Post” when newspapers had more respect
The new movie “The Post” is a powerful film that takes Americans back to 1971 when journalism was a profession dominated mostly by principle. Truth outweighed political partisanship. But in watching the movie this week, it only made me sad. Because it reminded me how badly journalism today has been corrupted.
By Ray Hanania
Back in 1971, I was concerned about the Vietnam War and my draft number, which was in the low 60s. Clearly, I was going to be drafted. And in late 1972, while finishing my sophomore year at Northern Illinois University, I decided to enlist int he Air Force, figuring it would be a better fit than the U.S. Army.
As it turned out, an analyst named Daniel Ellsberg pretty much helped me avoid going overseas by the time I finished Basic Training in San Antonio, Texas. Ellsberg, who could easily be compared to Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning, copied a lengthy secret U.S. Pentagon Document which concluded that no one in the U.S. Government or the past administrations believed that the Vietnam War was winnable.
Instead of evacuating Vietnam in the late 1960s, President Lyndon Baines Johnson lied to the American people predicting we could win and he sent more than 500,000 American soldiers to the Asian country that was pivotal in what many believed was a Domino Theory of Communist aggression … if Vietnam became Communist, Communist would takeover all of the nearby Asian countries making the world more threatening to Americans.
Last week, Hollywood released its version of the Ellsberg story from the perspective of the Washington Post newspaper. The movie, called ‘The Post,” stars Tom Hanks as Newspaper editor Ben Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Publisher Katharine Graham.
Ironically, it was the Washington Post’s exposes on President Nixon’s secret break in at the Democratic Headquarters at the Water Gate the following year that created a different kind of domino Theory which ended up forcing Nixon to resign. The Watergate Hearings in 1973 which detailed Nixon’s crimes inspired me to pursue journalism.
The truth is, back in the 1970s, Journalism was an admirable profession. Newspapers like the Washington Post spent a lot of effort exposing corruption everywhere. After two years in the Air Force and an honorable discharge — the war ended abruptly in 1975 — I return to the University of Illinois to pursue political science and journalism.
But that was 43 years ago and much has changed in American journalism.
Journalism always has had a selective bias, a selective aspect of unprofessionalism. The news media has always been biased against minorities, although that has slowly changed over the years. Even though the media embraces “diversity,” the truth is the news media is very “un-diverse.”
Sure, there are more African Americans, more Hispanics and more Asians in journalism jobs. The news media does a better job of reflecting their interests, but not because of ethics or journalistic integrity. The news media has opened their door just enough to make those minorities happy, mainly because those minorities have formed powerful lobbying groups to champion their rights.
There are many minority groups, including Arabs and Muslims, who do not have influential lobbying organizations to champion their rights or confront media bias. And today, if the media can get away with bias, they will.
It continues to worsen.
It’s a double-edged sword, though. The news media has some aspects of fighting the righteous fight. Back in the 1970s, that righteous fight dominated newspaper pages. These days, the balance has tipped and the righteous fight consumes less of the mainstream news media’s time and effort. Much of the news media’s time and effort is spent on biased political agendas.
Why? Well, in the 1970s, the news media was pretty independent. Today, five corporation own most of the major news media.
When I grew up, the mainstream news media only wrote about Arabs, for example, when the stories were negative, controversial and disparaging to the Arab community. They NEVER published positive stories. I could see that trend worsening back in 1975 when I first launched my own ethnic community, English-language newspaper, The Middle Eastern Voice. But I thought I could help change things by encouraging Arabs to become more involved in journalism as a profession. Little did I know that inside the editorial offices of most newspapers were rabid racist editors who hated Arabs either for racial reasons or for political reasons. They especially disliked Palestinian Arabs, like me.
What newspaper wanted a Palestinian American columnist regularly criticizing Israeli’s abusive military oppression? The industry loved me when I was Ray Hanania the Chicago Political City Hall Reporter. The same industry hated me when I was Ray Hanania the American Arab journalist fighting for civil rights in Israel.
The balance has tipped and watching the movie “The Post” this week made me realize how far that balance has tipped against justice, journalistic professionalism and fairness.
The movie portrayed Bradley and Graham fighting to champion the rights of the American people. A free press is important to fight for the rights of the governed, not the governors. Watching the journalists in the movie standup to bullying by the Nixon Administration back then was moving.
But it also was sad because while the news media today stands up to some politicians, they do so not on thebasis of what is right, but rather on the basis of partisanship. If the news media likes a politician, they give that politician slack and temper the criticism. If the news media doesn’t like you — which is the case with President Donald Trump — they exaggerate criticism, downplay positive stories and stress negative stories often publishing lies and rumors and innuendo as if it were all fact.
The media does it because they are controlled by corporations, not by principles of journalistic integrity. It’s not about objectivity. It’s about negativity. “If it bleeds it leads” has always been the driving mantra of the news media. In other words, the more shocking a story the more the news media knows it can attract the attention, and the money, of the public.
Racism against unpopular minority groups like Arabs and Muslims generates money for the news media. Controversial politicians like President Trump also create a conflict that helps the news media “sell more newspapers.”
Today, journalism is all about greed. It’s all about profits. It’s all about the financial bottom line and huge bonuses and celebrity status for the corporate media robber barons.
Many people will go to see the movie “The Post” because critics of Trump like Streep and Hanks are trying to take that story out of context from the past in an effort to bolster their defense of today’s corrupt news media and biased reporting. They will see in that movie about the news media of the past, the need for them to support the news media today against President Trump.
It’s dishonesty, really.
I loved the movie, in the context of what the news media used to represent when I was a young man and was writing my reports from City Hall without anyone telling me who to exclude. These days, the bigger media battles are fought inside news rooms where editors censor stories or completely exclude them in order to protect their financial and political interests.
Defending Israel is a major priority for today’s news media. Imagine that. Israel, a government that imposes oppressive military censorship on Christians and Muslims while the news media carefully only reports on stories that build up sympathy for Israel. Israel’s government is one of the most extremist governments in 70 years, worse than Nixon’s administration ever was and even worse than Trump’s. And yet, the mainstream news media does everything it can to defend Israel at the expense of truth.
I left the theater sighing, wishing that the news media today had the same kind of drive for truth and justice — truth to power — that it did back in the 1970s.
Maybe that’s why the movie “The Post” is so good.We love the movie because we want to believe that is how the mainstream news media is today.
Instead, “The Post” is a sad reminder of how the news media today manipulates Americans as political pawns in a power struggle for money, power and greed.
Today’s struggle is much like the one Bradlee and Graham faced in 1971: should they publish the truth, or should they surrender to their corporate overlords? Unfortunately, the media’s choice is clear.
Katharine Graham is the first female publisher of a major American newspaper — The Washington Post. With help from editor Ben Bradlee, Graham races to catch up with The New York Times to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spans three decades and four U.S. presidents. Together, they must overcome their differences as they risk their careers — and very freedom — to help bring long-buried truths to light.
Release date: December 22, 2017 (USA)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Josh Singer, Elizabeth Hannah
Awards: National Board of Review Award for Best Film
Production companies: 20th Century Fox, Amblin Entertainment, DreamWorks Studios, Participant Media, Amblin Partners
- Meryl Streep as Kay Graham
- Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee
- Sarah Paulson as Antoinette “Tony” Pinchot Bradlee
- Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian
- Tracy Letts as Fritz Beebe
- Bradley Whitford as Arthur Parsons
- Bruce Greenwood as Robert McNamara
- Matthew Rhys as Daniel Ellsberg
- Alison Brie as Lally Graham
- Carrie Coon as Meg Greenfield
- Jesse Plemons as Roger Clark
- David Cross as Howard Simons
- Zach Woods as Anthony Essaye
- Pat Healy as Phil Geyelin
- John Rue as Gene Patterson
- Rick Holmes as Murray Marder
- Philip Casnoff as Chalmers Roberts
- Jessie Mueller as Judith Martin
- Stark Sands as Don Graham
- Brent Langdon as Paul Ignatius
- Michael Stuhlbarg as Abe Rosenthal
- Christopher Innvar as James Greenfield
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