Photo/IllutrationSteven Spielberg, the director of "The Post," which opens in Japanese theaters from March 30 and is being distributed by Toho-Towa Co. ((c) Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Storyteller Distribution Co., LLC.)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NEW YORK--U.S. President Donald Trump’s constant bashing of the mainstream media brings a sense of deja vu to the release of Steven Spielberg's latest movie.

"The Post" deals with an epic battle over freedom of the press and shows how The Washington Post stood up to the administration of U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1971 as it tried to suppress publication of the Pentagon Papers, secret documents related to the Vietnam War. The movie will open in Japan from March 30.

In both a one-on-one interview with The Asahi Shimbun as well as a group interview with nine media organizations from around the world, Spielberg explained what drove him to direct the movie that he calls his "tweet" to the world today.

Excerpts from the two interviews follow:

Question: What inspired you to make this movie?

Spielberg: I read the script in February (2017). It was a stunning indictment of the Nixon administration in their efforts to stop a free press from publishing a story that was detrimental to their own reputations.

I cleared my schedule and I've never really felt the kind of purpose that all of us felt in deciding to make this movie (by the end of 2017). It's fast for me, the shortest schedule in my career.

I guess maybe this is our way of tweeting.

I think this is a very compelling story. I'd have been very happy to have made this film had I read the script two years ago, or even if I read the script two years from now. It would have been fine under the Obama administration or under the Bush administration.

Q: The struggle between the Nixon administration and a major media organization depicted in your movie is a very harsh one. Can you explain?

Spielberg: In our movie, the press has facts about the Vietnam War being lied about through four administrations. None of these presidents wanted the war to be lost on their watch. They knew it was unwinnable but they kept that war going because they didn't want to risk being humiliated.

That was a stunning fact that was all brought out by the Pentagon Papers. It took a lot of courage for The New York Times to publish this, and a lot of courage for The Washington Post to publish it, especially after The New York Times was ordered to stop publishing, which put The Washington Post in greater legal jeopardy because Katharine Graham, the publisher, and Ben Bradlee, the editor, could have gone to jail.

Q: Isn't there a lot of overlap with how President Trump attacks media organizations about their "fake news"?

Spielberg: Freedom of the press in 2017 is standing on the edge of a chasm. They're trying to convince that they are not fake news, that they're telling the truth. There's never been this kind of a smoke screen put between the public and the media and the press in history. This is certainly a new experience in my life.

I thought that this story of Nixon attempting to stop The Washington Post from publishing these stories and doing it through the court system and trying to kind of abolish the Fourth Estate and that there were just some profound similarities.

A whole segment of this country believes anything that our president says even if it's not true. There are people in this country who would like to believe that there is no difference between beliefs and facts. But facts are the foundation of the truth. You can't have the truth without facts. And that's what the press is so good at.

Q: Why do you think a certain segment of the U.S. population believes whatever Trump says?

Spielberg: I think people are angry. I think Americans are just frustrated at their idea of who was stopping their lives from progressing and about jobs that were replaced by technology, by machines. People feeling that Washington is a swamp and are distrusting of the House of Representatives and distrusting of the Senate. There's a large faction of people that just became so angry they just were looking for a conduit for their anger. And they found it. They found somebody who spoke their same language and they became less of a constituency and more like devotees. That's the unfortunate situation we are in today.

Q: How do you address criticism that your movie is also partisan?

Spielberg: The free press is a crusader for truth. To me, that's just a fact, not a partisan perception.

I love my country. I love my countrymen.

I don't just make movies for the Democrats. I make movies for everybody. I believe this movie is a patriotic movie. I don't think there's any partisanship in this film at all.

With this part of this country's inability to hear and the other part of this country's ability to speak, but not to be heard, there is no conversation any longer taking place, there's a house divided. I've never seen this much vitriol and dogmatic entrenchment. People are just sitting around getting mad and not finding at least one small thing that we can all agree on.

Republicans feel patriotic. The Democrats feel patriotic. The independents feel patriotic. That's something we can start a conversation about that we all do feel patriotic.

Q: Are you optimistic about the future of the United States?

Spielberg: I'm always optimistic about the United States. The pendulum swings both directions and the pendulum will come back around again. The press may feel surrounded and assaulted, but they're going to survive because the truth has to always win at the end. I really believe that someday this will be a chapter in history and we will move to a better place in the world.

Q: What are your own personal memories of the time when the incident in the movie took place?

Spielberg: I don't remember the Pentagon Papers. I more or less remember Watergate because it led to the resignation of Richard Nixon. I was totally immersed in shooting television shows. I was just starting out my career. I was a film-a-holic and a TV-a-holic. I didn't pay any attention to the world in 1971 at all. I didn't read newspapers. I didn't watch the news. I just simply went to the movies and was writing scripts. I think the first time I really woke up was when people I knew in college had been lost in the Vietnam War. When the Watergate story broke, I started for the first time paying attention.

Q: The movie depicts the inner struggle within Katharine Graham as she finally makes up her mind about publishing the Pentagon Papers.

Spielberg: It's a very important story about a woman who learns to be a leader. In the 1970s, in a crowded boardroom, men look right through her to the man on the other side of her. She's surrounded by men and she's very deferential toward men. But she hasn't found her voice. Finally, only Katharine Graham could make this one decision, the most important decision of her entire life.

She was the first woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company. I think she opened a lot of doors for a lot of women to come into positions of leadership and power.

Q: Do you believe her decision to publish changed the United States?

Spielberg: As far as The Washington Post was concerned, I don't think it would've existed had they first not been successful in releasing the Pentagon Papers. It gave Katharine Graham the courage, and Ben Bradlee, who already had a lot of courage, even more wisdom to allow Woodward and Bernstein to follow the money trail and climb the ladder and publish these stories leading up to the Nixon White House, which eventually led to his resignation.

Had the Washington Post not published the Pentagon Papers, I really believe that they wouldn't have had the determination and the courage to pursue the Nixon White House via Watergate.

Q: What are newspapers to you?

Spielberg: The newspaper, in a way, becomes an extension of your hands. A newspaper becomes a part of your wardrobe. Because when you get a newspaper, you fold it up, put it under your arm, when you're going to catch this train to the subway or get into a cab or get into your car. The newspaper is a companion. It's a companion that you take with you until you finish reading it, and then you get a new companion when the next one, the next issue comes out. That's how I've always seen newspapers, as a companion to my day, giving me all the news that I'm interested in and learning all the things that I wasn't interested in until I read them for the first time.

It's not an iPad, it's not a Samsung phone, it's a physical object. It is not a television anchorperson talking to you, or a lot of talking heads arguing an issue. It is simply a silent communicator. It simply tells you what's happening in the world and you allow it to go through your own unique, personal filters. That's what I love about newspapers.

Q: But fewer people are reading newspapers.

Spielberg: Even in Japan?

Q: Yes, even in Japan. Is there still a role for newspapers?

Spielberg: There's a great meaning to a newspaper. I hope newspapers are around for a long, long time.