WASHINGTON — Even as President Trump threatened to block the publication of a book detailing his slapdash approach to the presidency, his White House is scheduled to receive a cinematic, if belated, lesson on the failed precedent of prior restraint on the American press.
This particular lesson stars Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep.
Setting what is likely to be a landspeed record for stranger-than-fiction irony, the White House has requested and received permission to screen “The Post.” The movie recounts the Nixon administration’s attempts to stop newspapers from publishing portions of a classified government study about the Vietnam War.
Presidential administrations often seek to screen films, but this otherwise ho-hum request carried special significance this week.
It came as Mr. Trump attacked Michael Wolff, the author of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” as well as the writer’s sources, including Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist. Mr. Trump also threatened legal action against Mr. Wolff’s publisher, Henry Holt & Company. (So far, that threat has backfired into good business for both author and publisher.)
Additionally, the president found time this week to announce plans for “THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR,” which appears to be a sort of Razzie prize for what Mr. Trump called “Dishonesty & Bad Reporting.”
The White House had no comment on the film schedule. Its request was confirmed by a representative for Fox Movies, the film’s distributor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he said he was not authorized to speak about such agreements.
Screening requests by the White House are commonplace in modern administrations but are generally kept under wraps if the film is shown during presidential downtime. The news that the White House would screen “The Post” was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
On Friday, the representative for Fox Movies said that the administration had also secured permission to screen a second movie, “The Greatest Showman,” a musical about P. T. Barnum — a man who, as the film’s website indicates, created a “mesmerizing spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.”
There is no guarantee that the president will be in the room if, when or even where either movie is screened. Mr. Trump, who is described in Mr. Wolff’s book as, among other attributes, having a tiny attention span, has said that he has trouble sitting through movies and knows in the first five minutes whether he will enjoy a film. He will get up and leave if he realizes he will not.
On Friday afternoon, Mr. Trump’s focus was set to stray briefly from the news media; the president traveled to Camp David to meet with Republican congressional leaders over more pressing matters, which include figuring out how to keep the government running. Mr. Trump has long toyed with the idea of clamping down on the First Amendment, going so far as to suggest at a 2016 campaign rally that he would “open up those libel laws.”
"So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace,” Mr. Trump told the crowd at the time, “or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”
Indeed, Mr. Trump’s lawyer sent an 11-page letter this week to Mr. Wolff’s publisher, warning that the book might “give rise to claims for libel” that could result in “substantial monetary damages and punitive damages.”
Mr. Trump’s low regard for reporters has not found favor with the stars of “The Post,” who have grown increasingly vocal after the film’s premiere.
The Nixon administration accused The Times of violating the Espionage Act, and won a temporary court order in 1971 that blocked the newspaper from publishing more of what became known as the Pentagon Papers. That is when The Washington Post, led by the publisher Katharine Graham, stepped in.
Mr. Hanks, who plays Ben Bradlee, the former editor of The Post, told The Hollywood Reporter in December that he would not attend a White House screening of his own movie.
“This is the moment where, in some ways, our personal choices are going to have to reflect our opinions,” Mr. Hanks said. “We have to start voting, actually, before the election. So, I would probably vote not to go.”
This White House has demonstrated a knack for scheduling movie screenings to match — or clash with — the news cycle it perpetuates: Last January, aides screened “Finding Dory,” about a family’s efforts to reunite, as protests against the administration’s immigration ban roiled the country.
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