The Post (and five journalists who deserve their own movie)
Against the backdrop of Donald Trump's presidency and his penchant for labelling any and all stories portraying him in a negative light as 'fake news', Steven Spielberg's film The Post felt like a timely arrival when it landed in cinemas earlier this year. Much like Alan J. Pakula's seminal 1976 political thriller All The President's Men, the focus of the film's narrative is The Washington Post and their fight to publish a politically explosive story, but where Pakula's film covered the paper's investigation of the Watergate scandal that would eventually bring Richard Nixon's presidency to an end, here the focus is on a story published two years earlier featuring excerpts of classified documents dubbed 'The Pentagon Papers'.
The documents in question were part of a study of America's involvement in the Vietnam war commissioned in 1967 by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (played here by Bruce Greenwood), excerpts which were then subsequently leaked to the press by former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), who had worked on the study. Amongst the revelations contained in the Pentagon Papers was evidence that several US government administrations - including those of Presidents Johnson, Truman, Kennedy and Eisenhower – had misled the public about the extent of and motivations for America's involvement in the conflict.
Disillusioned by McNamara's private admission in 1965 that the war in Vietnam was 'hopeless' - and his public pronouncements to the contrary - Ellsberg first leaked the documents to New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan in 1971. After seeking legal advice, the Times began publishing excerpts in June that year, but further publication of the documents was halted when the government obtained a court injunction against the newspaper.
It's roughly here where Spielberg's film picks up the story, which revolves largely around Washington Post proprietor Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) and the paper's editor-in-chief, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). Graham has recently taken over the running of The Washington Post following the deaths of both her father Eugene Meyer and her husband Phil Graham, the paper's previous co-owners. McNamara, a longtime friend of Graham, warns her that a story is about to surface in the Times which is likely to paint him in an unfavourable light. When the magnitude of the story becomes clear, assistant editor Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) tracks down the source of Sheehan's report and Ellsberg hands over copies of the same material given to the New York Times.
The next two weeks are spent in fraught discussion over whether or not to publish despite the injunction against the Times, with The Post's Lawyers arguing that, because their source is the same one providing information to The Times, publishing could put Graham in contempt of court. Graham realises that doing so could put the company her father and husband built in jeopardy, but also understands the importance of the story and that publishing could establish her paper as an institution with real political heft. Graham runs the story, and when the White House mounts a legal challenge against their right to publish, The Post and The Times join forces to pleased their case at the Supreme Court.
The film is as well put together as you might expect from Steven Spielberg and some of the performances – particularly from Streep, Hanks and Odenkirk – are outstanding. You can find a trailer for The Post below, beneath that we've picked out five journalists whose exploits deserve their own outing on the big screen...
Famously dubbed 'the most trusted man in America', Walter Cronkite spent more than two decades as the main anchorman for CBS News, but there's much more to Cronkite's story than his role as the face of the American TV network. Cronkite was one of a group of wartime journalists sent to cover bombing missions over Germany (variously dubbed The Writing 69th, The Flying Typewriters and Legion of the Doomed), before securing a spot as CBS anchor and reporting on a series of high-profile stories including the Nuremberg trials, the Vietnam War and, perhaps most famously, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
While there has yet to be a full biopic of Cronkite's life and work, David Gordon Green is working on a film called Newsflash which is set to star Seth Rogen as the CBS anchor and focus specifically on Cronkite's reporting of the Kennedy assassination, but it has also been rumoured that Steven Spielberg is lining up a Cronkite biopic at some point in the future.
Hunter S. Thompson
Undoubtedly one of the most notorious journalists of the 20th Century, Hunter S. Thompson has featured on the big screen many times, both as the subject of documentaries such as Alex Gibney's Gonzo and as a character in films including Where The Buffalo Roam and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the later based on a book he himself wrote. What there hasn't been, though, is a proper Thompson biopic, which is a shame, because there are so many stories to tell about him.
There's the time he shot up his neighbour's house, an incident he explained by saying he was defending himself against an attack from a rabid porcupine. Or the time he was sent to Africa to cover Muhammed Ali and George Foreman's 'Rumble in the Jungle' for Rolling Stone, only to get drunk and miss the fight completely (he later explained that he had gone off into the jungle to find pygmies). Even his funeral was eventful; as he requested, his ashes were fired out of a cannon by Johnny Depp. He might not be to everyone's taste, but there are few journalists with life stories as fascinating as Thompson's.
Better known by her pen name Nellie Bly, Elizabeth Cochrane was a trailblazer for all kinds of reasons. At the age of just 20, Bly secured a job as a reporter for the Pittsburgh Dispatch after writing a withering response to an article suggesting women were only good for 'birthing babies and tending households'. Her letter was so fierce that the editor offered her a job, where she spent the first months of her career writing blistering exposes on the conditions endured by women working in the city's factories. When the factory owners complained to the editor, Bly eschewed the offer of writing about gardening to become a foreign correspondent, living in Mexico for six months under the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz and reporting on his oppressive regime until she was forced to flee the country under threat of arrest.
She made her name as a reporter Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, practically inventing immersive journalism when she pretended to be insane in order to infiltrate the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island, exposing the facility's brutal treatment of its patients. Her work on the story has already been the subject of 2010 film 10 Days in the Madhouse, but her exploits don't end there. On another assignment inspired by Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, Bly set out to prove it was nowhere near impossible to travel the world in 80 days, completing her own solo journey in just 72. She was also an inventor of some note, patenting widely used designs for milk cans and steel drums, and became one of the only female industrialists to run her own company when she took over the running of her late husband's firm, The Iron Clad Manufacturing Co. Not an easy story to cram into two hours, but still one well worth telling.
While the important work of journalists such as Marie Colvin deserves to be celebrated, there are are plenty of others whose life stories are worth telling for entirely different reasons. Nobody needs to look too hard to find instances of journalists taking liberties with the facts and in some cases, such as that of Stephen Glass, entire careers have been built and destroyed by fabricating entire stories, crimes and even people. However, few have been quite so brazen and unapologetically sparing with the truth as Swiss reporter Tom Kummer.
Kummer spent several years as a star reporter for German newspaper by securing a series of high-profile interviews with the likes of Bruce Willis, Mike Tyson, Tom Hanks and Ivana Trump, thanks to an apparent knack for gaining access to some Hollywood's biggest stars. There was just one problem: Kummer never met or spoke to any of his subjects, and later defended his entirely fabricated interviews as “montage reporting”.
William Randolph Hearst
Undoubtedly one of the most well-known figures in journalism – and one of the most divisive - William Randolph Hearst is the only person on our list that was never self-described journalist, but as the proprietor of a vast media empire Hearst has arguably done more to shape the face of journalism as we know it today, for better or for worse. Famously cited as the main inspiration behind Citizen Kane's titular protagonist, Hearst has been depicted or referenced in numerous other films down the years but has yet to be the subject of a proper biopic.
Chiefly known as a pioneering force behind the rise of 'yellow journalism', Hearst's newspapers popularised a style of news publishing that prioritised sensationalist headlines over accuracy in the pursuit of higher sales. A hallmark of his style was to champion the cause of the working classes and rail against 'the system', but not everyone was convinced about his motives for doing so. During the 1930s his newspapers ran a series of columns authored by Benito Mussolini, Hermann Goering and even Adolf Hitler himself, as well as boasting that his papers' exaggerated reports on Cuba helped spark the Spanish-American war. Not an easy figure to love, that's for sure, but certainly, one whose story should be told in full.