Before seeing “The Post,” Steven Spielberg’s sure-to-be Oscar nominee about Washington Post publisher Kay Graham and editor Ben Bradlee’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, you should check out “The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee,” now airing on HBO.
The documentary, co-produced by HBO and Kunhardt Films, premiered Monday, but is available to see on-demand and through HBO’s “Now” and “Go” streaming services. Directed by John Maggio, it’s an illuminating look at the life of one of the nation’s most-respected newspapermen — his highs and lows.
Spielberg’s film, which stars Tom Hanks as Bradlee and Meryl Streep as Graham, is scheduled for limited release on Dec. 22 and should be in Lincoln theaters then or soon after. It focuses on the Pentagon Papers — a U.S. study chronicling its political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967 — and Daniel Ellsberg, who first released the Papers to The New York Times in 1971 and then The Washington Post.
The documentary includes the Papers, but it’s just part of Bradlee’s story. Using film footage, photographs, interviews and Bradlee’s own words, it also delves into his close friendship to John F. Kennedy, his time at Newsweek, his personal life (he was married three times) and the Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein breaking of the Watergate story.
It also details the Janet Cooke incident. Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 for a Post article she wrote about an 8-year-old heroin addict, which later was discovered to be fabricated. The documentary showed how Bradlee didn’t hide from the controversy, but met it head on instead, launching his own investigation into how it happened under his watch.
Among those interviewed are Woodward, Bernstein, longtime NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, actor Robert Redford, PBS journalist and anchor Jim Lehrer, several family members and even former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. They provide insight into the no-nonsense and charismatic Bradlee.
I wanted more about Bradlee and Graham’s relationship, but that’s my only real complaint. The documentary opened up other windows into the fabled man for me. Grade: A.
News and notes
* History, which has drawn viewers with original fare such “Vikings” (now in season five) and the limited series “Hatfields & McCoys,” began a new scripted drama series last week. “Knightfall”, starring Tom Cullen (“Downton Abbey”), takes viewers inside medieval politics, the Knights of Templar and search for the Holy Grail. It airs at 9 p.m. Wednesdays.
* In wake of sexual assault allegations against Jeremy Piven, CBS has decided against ordering any more episodes beyond the 13 already commissioned for the Piven-fronted “Wisdom of the Crowd.” The procedural is scheduled to air its 10th episode at 7 p.m. Sunday. That essentially means it’s been canceled.
* Bryan Fuller, the visionary behind “Hannibal” and “Pushing Daisies,” has exited Starz’s “American Gods” after just one season, along with Michael Green. Fuller and Green served as executive producers/showrunners on the ambitious adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel. Reports say it was over the series’ budget. Fuller also was creator/EP/showrunner of “Star Trek: Discovery” on CBS All Access, but left before it started.