News & Politics

Report: Steven Spielberg to Direct Film About Washington Post and Pentagon Papers

Photograph by Flickr user Adam Glanzman.

Steven Spielberg will direct The Post, a film about the Washington Post‘s 1971 publication of classified Defense Department documents about the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers and the ensuing legal battle with the federal government over the newspaper’s right to publish them, according to Deadline. The film is expected to star Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, then the Post‘s executive editor, and Meryl Streep as publisher Katharine Graham.

The Post started publishing excerpts of the Vietnam documents on June 18, 1971, a few days after a federal judge ordered the New York Times to stop printing the papers, which had been furnished by RAND Corporation analyst Daniel Ellsberg. Several other newspapers also eventually printed portions of the Pentagon Papers. A judge ruled against a similar Nixon Administration motion against the Post, leading to a landmark Supreme Court case later that month in which a 6-3 decision ruled that the government had satisfied the burden of proof to stop publication of the documents, and that the newspapers could continue to print them.

If the reported casting holds up, Hanks will be at least the fourth different actor to play Bradlee. The Post‘s longtime editor, who died in 2013, was previously portrayed by Jason Robards in All the President’s Men, Henderson Forsythe in Chances Are, and G.D. Spradlin in Dick. Hanks is known best to DC journalists as the supplier of espresso machines to the White House press corps.

No release date has been announced yet for The Post, but the combination of Spielberg, Hanks, Streep, and subject material is sure to bait a future iteration of the Oscars, which love yarns about heroic editors. Spotlight, about the Boston Globe‘s coverage of the Roman Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse committed by priests, won the Best Picture award in 2016. Robards won Best Supporting Actor in 1977 for playing Bradlee, though All the President’s Men ultimately lost Best Picture to Rocky.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.