Two huge stories from the past from either side of the Atlantic bring back some difficult memories.

ONE of the most beautiful characters in the film The Post is the Linotype machine.

Director Steven Spielberg lovingly pauses the camera over the whirring hot metal printing press as the hypnotic newspaper production system shudders the reporters’ desks above while it churns out one of the biggest stories in American political history.

‘She’ stars alongside a couple of other heavyweights in Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks for this punchy real-life thriller about power and the truth.

The Washington Post is a struggling title. Proprietor-publisher Katharine ‘Kay’ Graham (Streep) reluctantly took the helm after her husband committed suicide, her father having bestowed the top job on him instead of his daughter when he retired.

Much like her time spent as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, Streep is seen moving through the dark suits of the bellicose boardroom bullies in her taupe, blue and brown nylon frocks, a meek people-pleaser at first with close friend and former secretary of state for defence Robert McNamara drinking fizz on her lawn.

This is the same Robert McNamara that six ‘goddam’ years earlier in 1965 knew that victory in Vietnam was impossible, a fact revealed in the Pentagon Papers.

This was classified research material which showed that four successive US administrations had not only known the Vietnam War was unwinnable, but had actively and secretly expanded the scope of the response during that time so as not to appear humiliated.

Given that there was scarcely a family in America who had not sent at least one of their men 8,000 miles away with tens of thousands either not returning home or doing so with life-changing injuries, this document was beyond explosive.

The New York Times was the first to break the story, but President Richard Nixon served an injunction against that publication, leaving the Post with a huge decision.

The Pentagon Paper’s author wants the Post to have the information and when its ‘pirate’ editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) has 4,000 pages of the document spread across his living room floor, six reporters ready to devour them and 10 hours before deadline, both he and his boss realise they will need to turn their backs on their A-lister address books if integrity and a free press is going to emerge the winner.  

“The only way to assert the right to publish is to publish!” drawls Bradlee. Will Graham reach under those synthetic skirts and find the balls she needs?

Protagonists are pursued by the cameras through the newsroom, a clatter of typewriters echoing the beating heart of a journalist chasing the story of a lifetime.

As someone who entered adulthood as a cub reporter in a bygone newsroom era that smelt of cigarettes and last night’s whisky, it’s a thrill of a movie on a number of levels – maybe one star above a non-hack audience for me for that reason.

It ends with flashing torches as burglars raid the Watergate office complex in Washington.

The trailer for this film does not do it justice. Do not be deterred. And it chimes with the times as the latest White House incumbent bellows about the media being the enemy and women still march on for equality in the week marking 100 years since the vote was secured.

More difficult reading comes in The Bulger Killers: Was Justice Done, now available to catch up on All 4.

Defence solicitor Laurence Lee represented Jon Venables 25 years ago this month. The 10-year-old and his friend of the same age Robert Thompson abducted and murdered two-year-old James Bulger on Merseyside in a crime that shocked the nation and beyond.

Lee opens up the dusty case files and reads aloud from transcripts of the police interviews where his client and the co-defendant initially deny, then describe beating and stoning the little boy to death. His voice changes into that of the pair as the audiotapes are played to the viewer and also the lawyers and the detectives and it is clear it was a difficult listen all this time on. Just how young they sound is disturbing.

The documentary explores the sense of horror, the press frenzy, the public outrage as well where the age of criminal responsibility is set, the physical development of a child’s moral compass and the impact of politics on the justice system and vice versa.

‘It was a crime never before countenanced or contemplated’ says prosecuting QC Sir Richard Henriques.

Does it answer the question the programme sets? I would say not so much, but that does not make it any the less powerful. And it also focuses little on the Bulger family. But their life sentence is beyond all reasonable doubt.

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