This is something I meant to write late last year, around the time of The Post, but didn’t get to it. Then two things happened.
First, the Columbia Journalism Review published this list of some of the favorite movies about journalism from journalists themselves.
Second, Seth Meyers mocked the trailers for movies about journalism with his own fake trailer for what he called Newspaper Movie, which isn’t wrong on a lot of counts.
So, using CJR’s list as well as some called out by Jason Bailey on Twitter, let’s take a look at the trailers for a handful of movies about the men and women who are producing the kinds of stories those in power don’t want you to read.
Absence of Malice
A powerful story of how, sometimes, a reporter can accidentally become part of someone else’s agenda despite his or her best intentions.
Given…recent events…and the kid-glove treatment given some politicians by select media outlets, it’s worth revisiting one instance where someone held a criminal politician to account in the court of public opinion.
All the President’s Men
If the above is the “after” then this is the “before.” The narrative has been fictionalized a bit to fit more neatly into a dramatic arc, but the core point remains that sometimes the only people looking out for the public are the members of the press.
As we discuss “fake news” and the influence it can have, here’s a story about how someone perpetuated lies not necessarily to change society as a whole but just to make himself look good.
It’s a more light-hearted look at the behind-the-scenes operations of the media, but James L. Brooks’ film is notable for how it portrayed an era where vacuous, good-looking “talent” was taking the place of sober-minded journalists.
What’s surprising to me is that a whole generation of entertainment writers loved this movie and yet went on to take selfies with movie stars and others, violating the core lesson of “You cannot make friends” with the people you’re writing about.
This is Ron Howard’s best movie and tells a fascinating story of how the press works, or sometimes doesn’t. It’s also an incredible character drama featuring top-notch performances from everyone involved.
His Girl Friday
I don’t really need to go into detail on this one, right? Howard Hawks’ fast-talking press comedy has Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant working out their romantic past, present and future while trying to get the scoop on the truth behind a criminal who’s about to be put to death.
Ace in the Hole
For anyone thinking sensationalistic journalism centered around human tragedy is something new, this movie should be eye-opening. Also note the presence of a character questioning the story’s value, a precursor to the role many play today on Twitter.
If there’s a lesson to take away from this movie as it regard the press, it’s to pay attention to the oddballs and others in the newsroom because they are going to see things others can’t or won’t.
The Sweet Smell of Success
Sometimes the relationship between the media and press agents gets a little too cozy and symbiotic and it never ever ends well.
It Happened One Night
Reporters occasionally have to play the angles available, including catching the coattails of a heiress who’s flight from her family provides a potential story that’s too rich to pass up.
The Philadelphia Story
Cary Grant is a tabloid reporter intent on winning back his ex-wife, played by Katherine Hepburn. Director George Cukor achieves GOAT status by balancing the strengths of those two plus James Stewart for one of the all-time great romantic comedies.
Instead of focusing on the people who create and share the news, this one turns the camera on those who bring the news the last mile to the reader and how they struggled to survive in the early 20th century.
Another case where a member of the press engages in a bit of deception, this time showing Gregory Peck as a reporter who helps a member of the Royal Family who’s out for a bit of unauthorized fun (Audrey Hepburn) hoping it turns into a story that can save his career.
Alfred Hitchcock directs a story of espionage about a reporter who gets caught up in a bit of spy business as Europe prepares for World War II.
The Hudsucker Proxy
Jennifer Jason Leigh is the standout here, doing her best Rosalind Russell impression as the reporter looking to expose the truth behind the rapid ascent of Tim Robbins’ schmoe. The late John Mahoney plays her editor and Bruce Campbell her newsroom foil.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.