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Review of the movie, “The Post”

January 1, 2018

Because of my three-part blog entry about Katharine Graham, I’m reposting my daughter’s review of The Post from over at Third Way website. Sign up for weekly media reviews from five excellent writers who tackle new topics each week! 

The Post

How the press, and the Pentagon Papers changed history

By Michelle Davis Sinclair

Streep. Hanks. Spielberg. With Oscar-bait like that, The Post could have rested on its headlining laurels and cranked out a movie that would have made money and won recognition regardless.

Fortunately for history, the film is every bit as good as advertised. The classic book and movie All the President’s Men immortalized the most infamous event of the Nixon years, but the lesser known scandal that preceded it and positioned The Washington Post as a newspaper powerful enough to take on the president has faded from common knowledge. This is the story of the Pentagon Papers–both an indictment of five presidents lying to the public about the Vietnam War, and an exploration of the importance of a free press in sustaining democracy.

It’s 1971, and Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) is about to take The Washington Post from being a local, family-owned newspaper to a publicly-traded company. She’s understandably nervous–she inherited the company from her late husband, who inherited it from her father–and wants nothing to jeopardize the company she has loved her entire life. Meanwhile, the New York Times has obtained a top secret government study of the Vietnam War that taints the legacy of every administration since Truman. When the Times begins to publish the papers, Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) practically froths at the mouth over getting his hands on some of these documents.

The movie doesn’t shy away from illustrating the tectonic shift in gender roles taking place in this era. In fact, Tom Hanks said the film could have been called “Katharine” and been just as fitting. In the movie, Kay Graham starts out as very much a woman of her time, deferring to the men in the room, the male advisors and businessmen who have so much more experience in this world than she does. But the indignity of it all–men talking at, talking over, and talking for her–has a transformative effect. Streep does a masterful job of taking Kay on this journey. Watching this woman come into her own as the pressure inches higher and the voices around her grow louder is nothing short of thrilling.

The entrance to the old and historic Washington Post building, with my daughter, Michelle, pointing out memorabilia to my then-83-year-old mother touring at Christmastime, 2007. Daughters Tanya and Doreen at far left.

It wasn’t possible to film The Post at the old Washington Post building because it was torn down at the beginning of 2016 (I am a thirteen-year Post employee myself–my review is my personal opinion and does not represent the views of The Washington Post), but the filmmakers did a superb job of recreating the essence of the place. Several times, my heart skipped a beat at the pans of the building exterior before my eyes clocked the differences. And just like they distilled the hallmarks of the old building well enough to recreate the place, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks strike the right notes in recreating two larger-than-life figures in newspaper history. I didn’t know Katharine Graham, but I interacted with the late Ben Bradlee enough times to recognize the mannerisms in Hanks’ performance. Does Hanks look like Bradlee? Not really, and Meryl Streep resembles Mrs. Graham not at all, but between the excellent costuming, hair, and of course world-class acting, they embody the stellar working chemistry between Mrs. Graham and her “pirate” of an editor.

Spielberg sets a blistering pace, refusing to let his story wallow through a few days of American history. Even at that pace, the movie uses careful brushstrokes to paint the characters while also raising existential questions that resonate today: What exactly is the role of the press? How can the press, which depends on reporters gathering information and standing witness to events, do their jobs while also risking alienating the very people who give them access? And at what point does keeping information top secret stop serving the needs of the country, and start protecting the interests of the powerful?

Streep’s Katharine Graham uses an old quote of her husband’s (a quip that remains popular among us Post employees), referring to the newspaper as the “first rough draft of history.” Movies exist to entertain, and this one is more interested in telling Kay’s story than getting every bit of history onscreen (the New York Times people have some legitimate gripes about being presented as supporting players in this story). Overall, though The Post is an excellent polish of that first draft, ready for presenting to a new generation.

The Post is rated PG-13 for language and brief war violence. The film is on limited release until its national release January 12.

Reposted from Third Way Media Matters pages.


  1. This is a must-see movie for me. Thank you, Michelle and Melodie, who has passed on some fine writing genes to her daughter.

    I have always admired Katharine Graham’s chutzpah, particularly because she was never groomed for the job, but must have seen the challenge as a way to express social/political justice. I like the idea that The Post (indeed, newspapers in general) write the “first rough draft of history.”

  2. I probably won’t see it until it is on DVD but yes, I definitely plan to see it, and thanks for the sweet tip of your hat to writing genes, whether or not they are actually passed! But yes, Michelle is definitely a fine writer, owing more likely to her vast love of reading (and writing) than any genes!

    Thanks for coming on board, as always, Marian.

  3. Athanasia permalink

    The movie is not available here yet. Why did they tear the building down? If it survived until 2016 why now? Newspapers can function in less space now then they used to so it doesn’t seem like they could outgrow it. My older son did several internships in Washington and he enjoyed the variety of architecture even the big concrete buildings. He has many pictures. I forgot the term he used for the concrete buildings.

    1971 I would have been 10. I don’t remember politics from that time. I don’t know if I would see the
    movie, though I may read the book someday.

    • I think the movie comes out tomorrow, but if you don’t remember the era, it won’t mean as much. The building was torn down because it truly was getting to be almost unsuitable to work in: mold, leaky, needed updating in many parts. But I think the land–like so much in cities like that–was the most valuable part, in a great location. I should get my daughter to confirm that. That’s interesting that your son was able to do several internships in D.C. To me it is always an exciting and fascinating destination (except for the traffic.)

  4. Hi Athanasia, In a way, you kind of answered your own question. We are a vastly smaller operation now than we used to be, even when I started at the Post in 2004. Over the years of not hiring replacements for people who retired or left (and the outsourcing of our most of our classifieds department to Buffalo in 2009 or so) the advertising floor went from a noisy, exciting place with people talking over every cubicle wall, chatting with clients on the phone or hurrying to get ad copy to our art department, to a hushed space barely half full. An occupied desk here, three empty ones there, entire rooms full of cubicles turned into vast, empty space with bare cords hanging from the ceiling where call-queue monitors used to hang. It could get depressing working there (and as my mom mentioned it was quite dirty and would have needed *major* renovations to remove health hazards, long term.)

    Could everything have been completely renovated? Sure, but at great expense and we still would not have been able to fill the space. It simply wasn’t a wise use of resources. The people who bought the land (which skyrocketed in value over the last decade) are leasing it to Fannie Mae, which is building their new headquarters there.

    I am as sentimental as they come–you can ask my mom!–but when the time came, even I was ready for the move. Brutalist buildings (I think that’s the term for the blocky concrete structures you’re looking for) simply don’t inspire much fervor for renovation and preservation. What made The Washington Post building grand was the stories and the history of the people who made it something special. Thank goodness we still have those!

    For more information, the Post published two wonderful bookend stories in a special “move” issue of our magazine. The goodbye to the old building article is here: And the “hello to the new building” article is here:

    I enjoy being a part of the new energy at the new building, where we are once again full, and (in the digital side) growing.

    Thanks for asking!

    • Athanasia permalink

      Thanks. Brutalist was the term I was thinking of.

    • Athanasia permalink

      Michelle, I enjoyed the articles you included. I remember when I was young and we would pass the newspaper office in town….the windows would be open and we could hear the loud clack clack clack of the presses. We used to be able to buy the end rolls of newsprint.

  5. Thank you, Michelle, for filling in Athanasia, and surely others here. Yes, you’re as sentimental as your grandpa Miller. 🙂

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