Steven Spielberg’s new film The Post slots neatly into the establishment it purports to monitor, in a routine that belies the processes of journalistic inquiry it supposedly commends. It’s loved by critics, who are, after all, journalists themselves, and who appreciate too readily an assured and accomplished approval of the system. The System in the story is the American presidency, in particular the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon; the System within which the story is presented is that of the very hub of Hollywood industry. Spielberg’s style is cultivated from the mechanised forms and procedures of the studio era of movie-making; his methods are faithful to the conventions of the industry; he himself, together with the stars of the film, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, represents the core of its establishment; the story itself points to the ostensibly great deed of the head individual of a commercial and political system of its own, who is part of nothing if not of the élite of privilege and power in American society.
Spielberg’s film centres on Katharine Graham’s (Streep) decision to publish reporting on the classified Pentagon Papers in the newspaper her family owned, The Washington Post. Hanks is the headstrong and hardy editor who organises the investigation and reporting, and pushes strongly to publish. Richard Nixon steps in as the villain; his actual recordings from the Oval Office are used on the soundtrack (an actor named Curzon Dobell provides Nixon’s silhouette), and manipulated to cast Nixon in his own archetypal role. The exaggerations and fictions of the film’s plot are obviously formulated to directly connect the story to a comment on the Trump administration and commonplaces about the press’s role in relation to it.