Film & Television

The Post: A Powerful Woman and the Power of the Press

Graham, whose memoir, Personal History, won a Pulitzer Prize, drew upon her principles in the end. Feeling that the government’s attempt to stop publication of the papers was an assault on freedom on the press, she decided that her loyalty was to readers, and that the paper, though not really a national player at the time, owed it to them to inform them of the truth. Graham (and Bradlee) regarded this as a civic duty—a higher duty than the need to follow authority.

Besides the meaningful timing of this theme, The Post will resonate strongly with viewers who can identify with what happens when life throws you into circumstances that you haven’t been prepared for. Some of us discover, to our surprise, that we can rise to the occasion. And many women will identify with Graham as a woman who had depended on and let her husband lead her—only to find herself having to learn all sorts of new skills after he’s gone.

Streep does not portray her subject as a feminist firebrand, though. She’s much too gifted and subtle an actress for that. Throughout, she plays Kay Graham as a well-bred, “lady-like” figure who was raised in a culture that expected her to behave that way— and she does, even as she begins to “fight” a man’s game. But no one would ever call her “shrill” or “strident” or any of the other insults that men use to undermine strong women. When she takes things in hand, she keeps her velvet gloves on.

As Kay Graham wrote in her memoir, “I accepted my role as a kind of second-class citizen. I think this definition of roles deepened as time went on and I became increasingly unsure of myself.”

But by 1971, Graham was certainly not the woman she was expected to be: “not capable of governing, leading, or managing anything but our homes and children.”

As the movie telegraphs at the end, under the leadership of Bradlee and Graham The Washington Post went on to crack the case of a minor burglary at the Watergate. Their reporting led, ultimately, to the downfall of Richard M. Nixon. I remember those times well, watching the Senate committee hearing with rapt fascination. I was most surprised, in the end, and gratified, that the First Amendment does protect our people, even when facing the most powerful of adversaries.

Are we witnessing a similar moment now? The power of freedom of the press was demonstrated once again this year as reporting in the press brought down Harvey Weinstein, and with him, scores of other powerful men who have been abusing women. The Golden Globes ceremony, on January 7, was a veritable celebration of the power of art to overcome oppression and an impressive demonstration of women’s solidarity. Who started it all? The free press. They are the cornerstone of functional democracy, and Kay Graham’s brave decisions have left a legacy that should not be ignored.

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  • Jane Wehner January 22, 2018 at 9:08 am

    Looking forward to reading more. Thanks!

  • Dr. Pat January 11, 2018 at 10:50 am

    Brava, Dr. Ford.
    Wonderful review and thoughtful insights as always.
    Dr. Pat