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’The Post’ Arrives as Trump Regularly Assails Real Reporting as ‘Fake News’

Steven Spielberg's Pentagon Papers movie, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, offers an opportunity to celebrate real heroes of journalism amid spurious cries of "fake news."


As a student at Harvard, future Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee joined a landmark, long-term study that looked at participants' physical and mental health.

One file entry, as detailed by the recent HBO documentary, "The Newspaper Man: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee," noted his "a strong desire and emotional feeling toward the movie 'Foreign Correspondent.'"

Bradlee's affinity for Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 fictional tale of journalism and political intrigue presaged the role he'd play in the greatest newspaper movie of them all. Jason Robards portrayed the hard-charging editor in "All the President's Men," the very real account of Richard Nixon's downfall.

More than four decades after Watergate and three years after Bradlee's death, the newspaperman is back at the center of the cinematic action.

He's a key player in "The Post," a drama that tells the story of the paper's 1971 fight to publish the Pentagon Papers after The New York Times' initial printing of documents detailing the secret history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam spurred a temporary restraining order.

The film, opening Dec. 23, offers an opportunity to celebrate Bradlee and other real heroes of journalism who defied the fake news accusers of their day to bring the public the truth.

Top among those champions is then-Post publisher Katharine Graham, an afterthought in the movie version of "All the President's Men," but the fearless backer of the paper's high-impact reporting on Watergate and the Pentagon Papers.

The new film, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Meryl Streep as Graham and Tom Hanks as Bradlee, follows 2016 Oscar-winner "Spotlight" in betting the public will embrace stories about journalists who reveal major institutional failures in the name of public service.

The timing couldn't be better – or worse, depending on how you look at it. "The Post" arrives as President Trump regularly takes to Twitter to assail reporting he doesn't like as "fake." 

But the challenges facing the legitimate press go beyond Trump's Nixonian approach. Rogue outfits pump out misinformation in bids to sway the electorate as social media becomes an increasingly crowded and hazy battleground where fact, opinion and outright BS fight for supremacy.

It doesn't only take dogged reporters and gutsy editors to wage this war, but bold owners in the Graham mold who are willing to put principle above all else.

"The Post," nominated for six Golden Globes, might be dismissed by some as propaganda wrought by some of Hollywood's top liberals. 

But it's not too much to hope that quality and truth will win out – and that just maybe audiences will leave "The Post" as inspired as young Ben Bradlee was when he first saw "Foreign Correspondent" all those years ago.

Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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