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True or False? The Dilemmas of a Good Journalist

The Media That Raised UsMedia

Journalism is not at its best. Nowadays, all that matters is feeding the public unverified news before the competition.

Respect for journalistic principles and ethics has been replaced by advertising figures in the accounts of publishing houses. It’s no wonder cinema still yearns for classic, now archaic forms of journalism, especially investigative journalism. We can see that the media is supposed to serve the governed, not the rulers.

In the U.S., there is increasing talk of media integrity. The hashtag #FakeNews has long been one of the most popular on Twitter. One of the biggest opponents of anti-press political movements, Steven Spielberg, joined the fight for truth in the media by making a film about the Pentagon Papers and the 1970s (considered by many the golden years of journalism). His 2017 film The Post depicts the conflict between the independent and White House press corps after Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) steals secret documents from the Pentagon regarding the Vietnam War, thousands of pages that present sensitive and confidential information, revealing lies that the government has told the American people for years. This film is an important statement on the responsibility of the media, born of civic concern, that should be seen by every person who is interested in the fate and history of their country.

The film depicts the moral conflict of the main character Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), the owner and publisher of the Washington Post. Graham is very disappointed after seeing the Pentagon Papers. She cannot believe that for so many years she has allowed herself to be manipulated by politicians gathered in the White House. She is torn between continuing her loyalty to the government and exposing the harsh truth about the Vietnam War’s policy errors. Graham has just taken the paper public, and, while her family still owns the Washington Post, investors will likely back out of their investments over a catastrophic occurrence, such as the publisher being arrested for treason. Her new awareness of many soldiers’ unnecessary deaths changes her attitude about the role the press plays in the life of society. A bystander, learning the details of tragic events presented by eyewitnesses in the Pentagon Papers, expresses that he must start to approach the news presented by the media with skepticism. Graham’s transformation can be seen in her response: “We don't always get it right. We're not always perfect but I figure we just keep on it. That's the job.”

Over the course of the film, we are able to observe how Streep’s character develops from a quiet and reticent figure to an outspoken leader who is both secure and firm in her convictions. As shown in the film, this is a woman who changed the course of American history while wearing a golden dress. Observing Meryl Streep, we get the impression Graham is a good, older woman who is used to many years of male domination and living in the shadow of her own husband. However, this strong and experienced lady is able to forge her kindness and submissiveness into strength and determination in the most critical moments. Observing her transformation, I tried to understand her moral dilemmas and encouraged her to make an appropriate, though difficult, decision. I believe that each of us has the right to learn the truth about the history of a given country, although I know with time it may be associated with unpleasant consequences for some.

Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), the editor of the Washington Post, plays an important role as the man who never questions whether or not they should publish the Pentagon Papers. When the Department of Justice temporarily stops the New York Times’ publication of the documents, he senses an opening. After the Washington Post tracks down its own copy, Bradlee and his staff have 24 hours to sort and publish information that the Times has been sitting on for months. But whether or not the Washington Post can publish becomes another matter altogether. Hanks’ performance finds the right degree of gravity for Bradlee, although he occasionally slips up due to a script that too often calls attention to itself. Hanks, with his arrogant elegance like a fish in water, fits into a world covered with tobacco smoke, where crowded offices live in the rhythm of hundreds of fingers tapping on typewriters (of which the actor is a huge fan). He is a true personification of willpower, the invincible guardian of his own beliefs, reflecting the mood of the entire nation.

The film is a multi-layered tale of journalistic triumph over political censure. The Post passes the trickiest tests for a historical drama: It makes us understand that decisions that have been validated by the lens of history were difficult ones to make in the moment, and it generates suspense over how all the pieces fell into place to make those decisions happen successfully. On the other hand, the script forces one character to tell another character something that he or she already knows purely for the benefit of the audience. Watching the film, I had the feeling that I had become a member of the journalistic team. I was very much affected by the plot development and emotional approach to the decisions made by the main characters. By commenting loudly on their actions, I had the impression that I could influence their decisions.

The decision to publish newspapers is nothing less than a guarantee of continued democracy, a guarantee made even stronger when newspapers across the country publish in unity. The Post nostalgically transports the viewer back to the glory days of newspapers, but the film also reminds us of a time when outcomes were uncertain and the freedoms we take for granted hung in the balance. Everyone, and journalists in particular, should pay attention to the court judgment which reads as follows: “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.”

We see similar situations today as politicians try to manipulate the media. The lesson that we can learn from this movie is that the challenges to the free press will always continue, and so there are almost certainly lessons for future generations in The Post. In my opinion, this film is undeniably an important work and does a good job warning against political conspiracies to keep citizens in the dark or lacking reliable information, causing them to refrain from action or protest in sensitive situations when citizens' rights and safety are at stake. It also shows how relatively recently public recognition and high professional positions for women was a fresh issue. I would give this film four stars. I believe that every young person should watch this film, especially journalism students, because it shows what problems and dilemmas may meet them in the future. It also demonstrates that the profession of journalism affects not only our working relations but also has a great influence on our personal lives, showing that the journalistic profession requires a lot of physical and mental resilience.

Patryk Karpowicz is a Year 11 student at St John Bosco College in London, UK. He enjoys swimming, table tennis, board games, documentaries, and game shows.

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