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“The Post,” the freedom of speech and the President

Sasha Milbeck

“The Post,” the freedom of speech and the President

Evaluating the modern day implications of Steven Spielberg’s new movie

At a time where the president of the United States has declared war not merely on journalism and the media, but on truth and freedom of speech itself, there is something truly powerful about the story of a corrupt US president being quashed by the Supreme Court for the attempt to suppress the freedom of speech.

“The Post,” Steven Spielberg’s Vietnam-era movie, focuses on the publishing of the Pentagon Papers and the legal battle between the Nixon White House, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Conflicted by her desire to publish the papers, and the chance of her incarceration for publishing, Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham struggles with her role as a publisher. In a Supreme Court showdown over the First Amendment, The Times and The Post come out victorious deciding that “the only way to protect the right to publish is to publish” and winning the legal battle 6-3. The classic story of the Pentagon Papers gives “The Post” a dramatic feel and the theme of hostility between the government and the media resonates with current political topicality.

As a journalist, I awaited the premiere date of “The Post” and I was in awe and teary-eyed from the wonderful story that showcases the protection of the freedom of the speech and the courage of journalists. However, I also decided to view the movie on the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration; that time, I saw the movie through a much different lens:

It’s been one year since Donald Trump was inaugurated.

It’s been one year since media outlets and publications came under national spotlight as “fake news.”

It’s been one year since the president of the United States declared war on the freedom of speech.

In a time where the Trump administration has assaulted both journalism and the truth, it is crucial to understand the necessity of the freedom of speech and the right to publish. While our nation has drastically changed since the Nixon administration, the role of the press has remained the same: revealing the truth. The publication of the Pentagon Papers is a powerful example of the importance of getting the truth out there, regardless of the consequences.

Imagine how an event similar to the one described in “The Post” would play out in the modern political arena. If The Times and The Post got their hands on a document that could change the fate of this nation and published it, how would the Trump administration react? How would the nation react? Would Trump send out a multitude of angry tweets questioning the credibility of some of the nation’s leading media outlets? Would the nation be discussing the truth of the government’s actions, or would citizens simply call The Times and The Post “fake news” and go on with their day?

The timeliness of “The Post” is clear and critical to the understanding of the role of journalists. Rather than viewing the movie as a simple dedication to The Washington Post’s courageous reporting, it is important to also see the movie as an acknowledgment to the ever-present battle between the government and the media.  While little stories today carry the magnitude that the publication of the Pentagon Papers had, it is important to remember the role of all journalists and celebrate their achievements in fighting against the suppression of the First Amendment and changing the course of the nation for the better.

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