The Post is about a little-known and relatively minor incident in the annals of newspapering—how the Washington Post made itself a player in the Pentagon Papers story, the biggest scoop of 1971, after it was beaten to the punch by the New York Times. And it merges that account with a female empowerment tale featuring the 55-year-old Katharine Graham as a shy and retiring victim of mansplaining back in 1971 who found her voice and her leadership skills standing up not only to Richard Nixon but to her own company’s condescending board of directors.

The script (by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer) ignited a Hollywood feeding frenzy just after Labor Day 2016 because it seemed to be a harbinger of the 2016 election, with Donald Trump as Nixon and Hillary Clinton as Graham—a fable about how a woke lady brought down a great evil. Upon its release in December 2017, director Steven Spielberg had transmuted the pitch. “The level of urgency to make the movie was because of the current climate of this administration, bombarding the press and labeling the truth as fake if it suited them,” Spielberg told the Guardian. “I deeply resented the hashtag ‘alternative facts,’ because I’m a believer in only one truth, which is the objective truth.”

Well, that’s a nice sentiment—only The Post is a story that features all kinds of alternative facts of its own. That’s fine as far as it goes. It’s a movie melodrama, after all, not a documentary. But it takes historical figures during a historical event and massages them to its own purposes.

Newspaper dramas invariably come down to a moment when someone must decide to push the button and run the presses with the controversial story that could make or destroy the paper. It’s great melodramatic shtick, but it’s nonsense. Even before the Internet made print deadlines all but meaningless, most major newspapers produced multiple editions and changed their front pages routinely from one to the next. Indeed, if newspapers are, as Katharine Graham’s husband Philip Graham once said, “the rough first draft of history,” the “early edition” was the rough first draft of that day’s newspaper. Editors and publishers might even halt a print run in the middle to “replate” a couple of pages, which is where we get the glorious phrase “stop the presses.” The point here is that there never was a time when a paper either ran the story or the story disappeared.

The Post offers a stripped-down narrative account of a complicated editorial decision involving the Pentagon Papers that takes this classic movie cliché to new levels of falsity. Nothing less than the future of the Republic, we are led to believe, is at stake at the climactic moment when the phone rings in the printing plant to direct the shop steward to hit the button and start those presses a-runnin’.

In fact, there was no such moment at the presses. We know this from Katharine Graham’s splendid autobiography, Personal History. During the weeks the movie shows us, court decisions were flying fast and furious about whether the New York Times and the Post could publish these leaked documents. The Post published some excerpts on June 18, 1971, and prepared to publish more the next day. On the night in question, the fact that the Post’s early edition for June 19 already featured a Pentagon Papers story allowed the paper’s lawyers to argue successfully that it should not be prohibited from publishing the story in its later editions. “Fritz was at the court with the lawyers arguing that we had several thousand papers on the street and the plates on the presses,” Graham writes. “So, at 2:10 a.m., the court agreed with us that the injunction didn’t apply to that night’s paper, and we finished the press run.”

Now let’s discuss that Fritz. The chairman of the Post’s board of directors, he is the chief mansplainer to Graham and therefore serves as the movie’s villain. The movie’s Fritz complains that Graham is going to ruin the Post’s effort to become a publicly traded company and treats her as though she were a child—which, I assure you as someone who knew the extraordinarily formidable Graham slightly, is something only a demented lunatic would ever have done.

Graham’s portrait of Fritz—whose full name was Frederick Beebe and who died in 1973—makes it clear how slanderously the movie uses him.

Beebe had advised her not to publish the story for various reasons, and Graham writes that she was “extremely torn” due to his counsel. “But I also heard how he said it,” she continues. “He didn’t hammer at me, he didn’t stress the issues related to going public, and he didn’t say the obvious thing—that I would be risking the whole company on this decision. . . . I felt that, despite his stated opinion, he had somehow left the door open for me to decide on a different course.” But the condescending Fritz in Spielberg’s movie does exactly what Graham says he did not do. That is a monumental injustice to a real person’s memory.

The Post, which has been nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, is a watchable if not entirely memorable piece of work. The waggish Andy Levy described it perfectly as “the most competent movie ever made.” And Streep’s performance as Graham is just uncannily brilliant and rightly earned her a Best Actress nomination. But given the fact that tens of millions of people will see it when all is said and done, The Post will become the accepted account of the events it shows. And it falsifies them. Is there a better definition of Fake News?

John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.