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Today’s List: Favorite Moments from ‘The Post’

February 2nd, 2018 · No Comments · Journalism, Lists, Movies

Finally saw The Post, the Steven Spielberg movie about the Washington Post and the Pentagon Papers. It was an afternoon screening at the multiplex at the nearest semi-big town. And it was in English. So.

I recommend that all former newspaper journalists see the film. And most certainly those over the age of 50, for whom the “period piece” (set in 1971) might dredge up a lot of memories, back when what we did mattered. And sometimes mattered a lot.

It is a movie that made me lament the collapse of the industry, and it made me wistful for Things As They Were, but also thankful that I was in the business for the whole of my working career. We all were very, very lucky.

I am going to turn this into a list (I don’t do enough of those) … of my 10 favorite moments in the movie.

Let’s count down backward, from 10 to 1.

10) How seemingly every executive in The Post newsroom pitches in, at Ben Bradlee’s house, in a frantic attempt to put in order the unnumbered pages of the Pentagon Papers and find the most trenchant bits — so that the paper can publish a story in the morning. That’s how newspapers worked, in an emergency: All hands on deck. I miss that.

9) The moment when Ben Bradlee, editor of The Post, shouts for an intern, clearly unaware of the kid’s name, presses $40 in his hand and tells him to travel to the New York Times offices and find out what a certain NYT reporter is working on. The kid talks his way into the NYT offices and sees the layout for the next day’s front page, which he brings back to The Post. And Bradlee’s final words before the kid leaves are: “And bring me the receipts.”

8) Watching compositors working with hot lead as pages are cobbled together. How exotic it was, and how skilled were all those people who operated the Linotype machines. (I missed the hot lead era by a matter of weeks.) Most Linotype operators lost their jobs by the early 1980s — some 25 years before reporters and editors faced the firing squads.)

7) Ben Bagdikian, an assistant managing editor, has caught up with Daniel Ellsberg, the man who sneaked out photocopies of all the thousands of pages in the Pentagon Papers. They talk about what could happen if Bagdikian is charged with a crime and the newspaper man accepts that he is OK with the more-than-a-little-theoretical idea of jail time.

6) Bagdikian sitting in first class of an airplane, next to a seat he also has purchased and where he has placed two boxes of Pentagon Papers documents, where he can keep an eye on them. When chasing a story, journalists would do crazy stuff.

5) Ben Bradlee’s wife refusing to call her husband brave, shrugging off the possibility of jail and adding, referring to Bradlee perhaps getting fired: “You can find another job.” The industry was like that, back then. You could get another job.

4) The moment when Katharine Graham, publisher of The Post, makes the hard decision to run The Post’s Pentagon Papers story after being informed she could lose the newspaper or go to jail. (Most publishers play it safe.)

3) The news and energy of the newsroom, recreated for the movie. The cluttered desks, the typewriters, the colleagues rushing about. Most newspaper people loved being in that room, whether it was 10 people or 300, and the noise of fast typing, phones ringing and banter. It made me nostalgic for a vanished world.

2) For some reason I got emotional in the scene in which the press — with all the plates in place — begins to move.

1) The copy editor in action. For the previous hour of the film, executives are scurrying and lawyers are warning and deadline is bearing down, and one of the execs takes the multi-sheet story into the newsroom, hands it to a copy editor and tells him he has 30 minutes. First thing the copy editor does? Strikes out the first 8-10 words of the original. That was such a newspaper moment.



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