The Stop the Presses series at the Alamo Drafthouse, which celebrates the media in movies with screenings of such classics as Sweet Smell of Success and All the President's Men, has inspired a lot of conversation about the relationship between journalists and the movies that portray them. With barely enough titles to qualify as a subgenre, films about the news can serve as indelible documents of the time and place that created them, going on to win Academy Awards and inspire future generations of filmmakers and reporters alike. However, many films about the news tend to gloss over the un-cinematic tedium of the work itself -- which is understandable given how much of a journalist's life is spent sitting at a keyboard. The qualities that make a movie character dramatically compelling are often totally at odds with the qualities that make a good journalist, so when a truly entertaining movie about an admirable journalist gets made, it deserves some attention. The following list celebrates movies about journalists -- both real and fictional -- who live up to the highest ideals of their profession.
6) Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck
Though he divided his screen time between frothy celebrity interviews and his more serious-minded CBS Evening News broadcast, Edward R. Murrow will probably be best remembered for his feud with Senator Joseph McCarthy. The 2005 film Good Night and Good Luck dramatizes that feud, while paying tribute to the highest ideals of the profession at the dawn of TV newscasts. Murrow (David Strathairn) not only risks being labelled a communist when he confronts the absurdity of McCarthy's HUAC investigative hearings, but also fights network pressure to produce a more superficially objective show. The film, which was directed by George Clooney, was surprisingly topical in an era when journalists were afraid to criticize the disastrous policies of the Bush administration; it continues to offer a primer on Murrow and demonstrate why he's so widely admired.
5) Aaron Altman in Broadcast News
While Broadcast News is often remembered for the workplace romance between protagonist Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) and her lunkheaded love interest, anchor Tom Grunick (William Hurt), the film also focuses on the struggle to maintain journalistic integrity in the face of consumer demand. Accordingly, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) the one character who lives according to his principles, delivers hard-hitting reportage and shirks his profession's gradual slide into shallow infotainment. Though he's partially motivated by romantic jealousy, when Altman uncovers some editing trickery that Grunick employs to appear more sympathetic, his commitment to his field is unquestionable. Still, contemporary viewers will likely find Altman's insistence that broadcast journalism ought to remain above cheap manipulations and fallacious logic rather quaint.
4) April O'Neil in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Admittedly, the 1990 film adaptation of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was less concerned with portraying a strong female reporter than it was with bringing the adventures of the world's most fearsome fighting team to the big screen for a generation of Ritalin-addled Turtle fans. Unfortunately for this list, most lady journalist movie characters are involved in romantic entanglements that are unprofessional at best (Rosalind Russell was married to editor Cary Grant in His Girl Friday) and borderline unethical at worst (see Sally Field and suspected murderer Paul Newman in Absence of Malice). April O'Neil (Judith Hoag), despite being a supporting character, demonstrates many admirable qualities as an onscreen reporter for Channel 3 news. She follows her story about an urban crime wave to absurd ends, uncovering a secret world of reptile martial artists and enduring several attacks from their ninja enemies in the process. She also protects her sources, inviting Splinter and the Turtles into her home after their subterranean lair is crashed by the Foot Clan, and she stands up to her producer in the name of truth -- and ends up getting fired for her efforts.
3) Phillip Schuyler Green in Gentleman's Agreement
Gregory Peck, arguably cinema's all-time best father figure, portrays Schuyler Green as a paragon of journalistic virtue who decides to write an exposé on anti-semitism when he has trouble explaining religious conflict to his son. Throughout the film, Green is possessed of the single-minded devotion to a story that characterizes all the best journalists of the silver screen. Released in 1947, when most Americans were only just beginning to understand the full extent of the Third Reich's campaign of genocide and its most heinous details, the social commentary of Gentleman's Agreement is all the more daring for its timeliness. Adapted from the novel by Laura Z. Hobson, Gentleman's Agreement tells the story of Phillip Schuyler Green, an esteemed columnist who pretends to be Jewish in order to internalize the struggle against discrimination, at one point even exposing the unfair hiring practices employed by his own magazine. While some elements of the script might strike modern audiences as didactic, or even patronizing, Gentleman's Agreement made a truly bold statement for its era, and was rewarded with an Oscar for Best Picture in 1948.
2 & 1) Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in All the President's Men
Another Best Picture winner, 1976's All The President's Men was the quintessential -- and true -- tale of crusading journalists confronting the issues of the day. The film, directed by Alan J. Pakula, tells the story of Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford), who uncovered the Watergate scandal in the course of investigating what appeared to be an unimportant robbery of the Democratic National Convention headquarters. Arguably the best film about journalism ever made, All the President's Men celebrates the fearlessness and dedication required to expose corruption at the highest levels. The movie also continually asserts the importance of strong editorial guidance, as the Post's executive editor Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) compels Woodward and Bernstein to build a stronger case against the Nixon administration by finding confirming evidence for the claims of their anonymous source, Deep Throat.
Be sure to check out Show & Tell tomorrow, when we'll out the worst journalists -- in the movies, at least.
Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.
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