Obama, Trump, and the Silliness of Spielberg’s The Post
“The way they lied,” says the Ben Bradlee character in Steven Spielberg’s preposterous new film, The Post, “those days have to be over. We have to be the check on their power. If we don’t hold them accountable – my God, who will?”
This is the same Ben Bradlee, by the way, who retrieved the diary of his sister-in-law, Mary Pinchot Meyer, after she was murdered and burned the pages having to do her affair with Bradlee’s pal, President John Kennedy. The murder took place less than a year after JFK’s assassination and three weeks after the release of the Warren Commission report. Meyer’s ex-husband was CIA. Bradlee collaborated with the CIA to destroy the evidence. Thanks in no small part to Bradlee’s intervention, the murder was never solved. This is just one of the minor ironies that render the movie absurd.
A larger irony is that the movie should have been rightly called The Times, since it was the New York Times that ran all the risk in publishing the Pentagon Papers that contractor Daniel Ellsberg had pilfered, not the Washington Post. “It’s as though Hollywood had made a movie about the [Times’] triumphant role in Watergate,” said James Goodale, the Times’ in-house attorney when the papers were published.
As is painfully obvious, Spielberg made the movie to rally the liberal troops against President Donald Trump and his perceived threat to the First Amendment. The silly, subversive part of it all is that Spielberg elevated the role of the Washington Post only because the Post had a female publisher and thus a juicy role for Meryl Streep. The Times reviewer, paying deference to feminist sensibilities, still dared to write the following: “It is an unfortunate irony that the makers of a film dedicated to the pursuit of truth took dramatic license with Mr. Sulzberger, who died in 2012, in their worthy elevation of Ms. Graham, who died in 2001.” He refers here to the Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger and the Post publisher Katherine Graham. Only among allies in political correctness would so basic a corruption of the truth be considered “worthy.”
The most significant of the ironies is that the Post and the rest of the major media have extended the same level of protection to Barack Obama that Ben Bradlee and his peers did to JFK, if not more. Their affection for the “truth” remains as situational as it ever was.
Project Veritas honcho James O’Keefe got a refresher course in the media’s flexible ethics last week. In a series of videos, O’Keefe showed some nine different Twitter employees boasting of their “Big Brotherish” capabilities and their eagerness to turn that power against the president. Bragged the one senior Twitter technician, “We have full access to every single person’s account, every single direct message, deleted direct messages, deleted tweets. I can tell you exactly who logged in from where, what username and password, when they changed their password.” The “every single person,” he explained, included the president.
The videos were sensational. They got extensive play on talk radio, conservative websites, Fox News, and a banner headline on Drudge in red. Yet despite the major media’s expressed affection for the First Amendment, not a single major media outlet mentioned the videos, not even in a tweet.
CNN did, however, see fit to review O’Keefe’s new book, American Pravda, which hits the bookstores on Tuesday. Although the book is a thoughtful exploration of historical and modern reporting – in a just world, it would be a staple in journalism schools – CNN chose to headline its review thusly: “James O’Keefe says Trump asked him to go on birther-linked mission.”
Here is the paragraph that triggered CNN’s “birther” headline. It appears on the first two pages of the book: “In 2013, Obama still interested [Trump]. From what I gathered that day, Trump was not a “birther,” never was. He was confident Obama was born in the United States, but he suspected [that] Obama had presented himself as a foreign student on application materials to ease his way into New York’s Columbia University, maybe even Harvard too, and perhaps picked up a few scholarships along the way.”
O’Keefe adds the following: “Trump had reason to believe Obama was capable of this kind of mischief. In May 2012, Breitbart News unearthed a promotional booklet produced in 1991 by Obama’s literary agency at the time, Acton & Dystel. In the booklet, Obama claimed to have been ‘born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.'”
O’Keefe takes pains to deny that Trump was a “birther,” and yet CNN insisted on putting “birther” in the headline. The thrust of the CNN article is that O’Keefe was somehow ratting Trump out. The photo of a scowling Trump reinforces that idea, but in fact, O’Keefe was doing no such thing. By referring to the Breitbart article, he was establishing a rationale for Trump’s curiosity.
“Nobody else can get this information. Do you think you could get inside Columbia?” O’Keefe quotes Trump as saying. CNN extracted the quote “inside Columbia” as though Trump wanted O’Keefe to do something illegal. “As I explained,” writes O’Keefe, “that was not exactly our line of work. We were journalists, not private eyes.” This encounter forms the basis of all of CNN’s reporting on O’Keefe in the momentous week of his Twitter revelations.
CNN’s triviality never ceases to impress. In the same week that the media were celebrating their collective daring in the publication of the stolen Pentagon Papers, CNN was ignoring O’Keefe’s exposé of Twitter and wringing its hands about Trump’s wanting to see Obama’s tightly sealed records from Columbia. Writes CNN’s Oliver Darcy, “Some of the conspiracy theorists believed, without evidence, that there would have been something suspicious in his records from that period.”
The phrase “without evidence” reads like a punch line. There was an absence of evidence only because of the complete absence of curiosity by the American media. The information known about Obama’s New York years when he was a presidential candidate was uniquely sketchy. In late October 2007, the New York Times ran a telling article on that period, headlined “Obama’s Account of New York Years Often Differs from What Others Say.”
Given that he was an announced candidate for president, the Times expected Obama to welcome the chance to reconcile his account in his memoir Dreams from My Father with the accounts of those who knew him. “Yet he declined repeated requests to talk about his New York years[;] release his Columbia transcript[;] or identify even a single fellow student, co-worker, roommate[,] or friend from those years.”
A campaign spokesman, Ben LaBolt, offered a conspicuously lame explanation for Obama’s reticence: “[h]e doesn’t remember the names of a lot of people in his life.” Lame or not, it worked. Obama’s indifference to the facts on the ground may have shocked the Times, but it did not exactly shock the Times or any other media outlet into action. By 2013, when Trump inquired, the media knew little more about Obama’s New York period than they had in 2007. To inquire into Obama’s background made the investigator not just a “conspiracy theorist,” but a racist.
One suspects that if the Times or Post had been handed an incriminating document about Obama, from Columbia or elsewhere, the editors would not have done what their editors in times gone by did with the Pentagon Papers. They would have done what Ben Bradlee did to his sister-in-law’s diary: burn it. That is the way they roll.