I suspect that younger women, women my daughter’s age, who see this movie will wonder what was the matter with the very anxious and unsure Katharine Graham, played by Meryl Streep. Graham was the publisher of the Washington Post. Why would an executive in that position be so tentative and hesitant? Why would she dress like a socialite, not a business woman?
Kay Graham was dressed like a socialite because that’s what she was raised to be. She was tentative and uncertain, at least until the moment she gave the order to publish the Pentagon Papers, because she was the lone female executive in a sea of men in dark suits, because her father had given the family business to her husband Phil, not to her — which seemed right to everyone at the time, even to Mrs. Graham. She was tentative because she had no experience running the newspaper until the suicide of her husband landed the paper in her lap. She had no mentors, no role models, and no female peers. She stood out like a sore thumb in the all male boardrooms and among her all male advisors. She was the pathbreaker Hillary Clinton tried so hard to be, and as we all know, being the pathbreaker can be a lethal role.
But the Washington Post thrived under Katharine Graham, and this Steven Spielberg ode to press freedom is no period piece. The Trump assault on the free press makes the film as relevant today as the actual publication of the Pentagon Papers was in 1971. And one wonders if the ringing defense of a free press in the 6-3 Supreme Court decision could possibly be replicated today, with the likes of Alito and Gorsuch and Thomas on the Court.
Meryl Streep turns in her usual world class performance — as if there is anything “usual” about the number of stellar performances she’s given us over the years. The story is riveting, even when we know the outcome and the basic outlines of the deception around the Viet Nam war that began in the Truman administration and continued through the downfall of Richard Nixon.
The Post is another “don’t miss” — and there isn’t a single one of these leading women who doesn’t deserve the Oscar. What a night that’s going to be.