How historically accurate is The Post?
The Post is a historical drama that depicts the publication of the Pentagon Papers<i> that detailed thirty years of involvement by the United States in Vietnam. These documents had the effect of increased hostility to the war, as they demonstrated a negative view of the war by the US government at a time when the government gave a more positive view and increased the war effort. The film focuses on the publication of the papers and Katharine Graham, who was the first female publisher of a major US newspaper.
The film begins in 1966 when then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on flight home from Vietnam expressing a negative view of the war effort and how it cannot be won. However, after arriving back in the US, McNamara gives a glowing review of the war effort. Daniel Ellsberg had gone with McNamara as part of a Pentagon review of the war effort, where Ellsberg had worked for the RAND Corporation in charge of the review. Ellsberg is shown being dismayed at the negativity while the government portrayed a different perception.
By 1971, the war had become less popular and the <i>The Washington Post, which was a major newspaper but needed financial stability and was trying to go public on the stock market, had come under the ownership of Katharine Graham. Ben Bradlee is the editor-in-chief and feels frustrated that the paper seems to always be bested by The New York Times in breaking major stories of the day. This seems to be the case, once again, when the Times publishes an expose on the Pentagon Papers, including McNamara's role in covering up the war effort. As the Pentagon report was suppose to be classified, the government gets an injunction from the court to halt further publication. Meanwhile, Ben Bagdikian determined that the ultimate leak of the story and papers was Ellsberg, as he had made copies of the report. Copies of the same information The Times had were given to the The Post, which now creates a dilemma. If The Post further tries to publish the documents then they could also be in contempt of a court order and Katharine Graham, who is ironically perhaps a friend with McNamara, could be put in jail and her newspaper ruined.
Ultimately, The Post decides to run the story, leading to a court case between the US government and The Times and The Post appearing together in court, where the case makes its way to the Supreme Court. Newspapers then begin to run similar stories about the Pentagon reports, showing their backing of the newspapers' First Amendment rights. Ultimately, in a 6 to 3 decision, the Supreme Court rules in favor of the newspapers. The court was very critical of the government's interference in the papers' First Amendment rights, which they saw as critical in protecting democracy. The effect of the decision makes The Post not only vindicated but helped create it as a major national newspaper that continued to rival The New York Times.