The star of Steven Spielberg’s The Post isn’t Meryl Streep or Tom Hanks, although, they’re perfectly serviceable. The real star is the enormous glistening caftan that Streep, as publisher Katharine Graham, wafts about in when the film’s penultimate moment arrives. The decision to bring down the Nixon government is undertaken in a tasseled white gold confection, that is little more than a souped-up nightgown. It is the peignoir that toppled a president.
Although it may seem like a minor player in the big picture story of the Pentagon Papers, the point is clear. Graham, surrounded throughout her life by powerful men – from her late husband to The Post’s Editor Ben Bradlee to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara – had never been prepared nor trained to disrupt the status quo. But that is precisely what she did, in the name of courage, ethics and good old-fashioned journalism. That she did so, while dressed in silky drawers is just the icing on the cake.
When what women choose to wear is still very much a political statement (all those little black dresses at the Golden Globes), Graham’s courage takes on added resonance. She bore the weight of the decision-making, largely alone, and often in the face of brutal and blunt sexism. In an excerpt from her memoir Personal History, the woman herself recounts the pressure that was brought to bear against her leadership at The Washington Post, including the memorable threat from then-Attorney General John Mitchell about the Watergate scandal: “Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.”
Some twenty years later, Graham still had an old-fashioned laundry-wringer, signed by the editors and reporters who worked through the Watergate story, sitting proudly atop her desk.