Saturday, November 4, 2017

Cinematic Journalism

I just watched Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) again. Directed by George Clooney, with David Straithearn in the lead role of Edward R. Murrow. Such a good movie. And all the more pertinent today, what with the right wing going on (and on) about "fake news." Murrow must be spinning in his grave.

How junior senator Joe McCarthy from Wisconsin (Wisconsin again!* now we've got Paul Ryan) became so powerful I don't understand. There's this account in Wikipedia, but it doesn't make his ascent really clear. It surely was the times: post–World War II, Korean War, Iron Curtain. Fear. He died at age 48, probably of alcoholism. No hero he.

But Murrow: he was a man of intelligence and integrity. Here is his conclusion from an episode of the documentary news program See It Now, in which he took on McCarthy:
No one familiar with the history of this country can deny that congressional committees are useful. It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one, and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men—not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.
   This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
   The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it—and rather successfully. Cassius was right: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."
And here is an excerpt from the beginning of Clooney's film, Murrow's 1958 speech accepting the RTDNA (Radio-Television News Directors Assocation) annual award (the full transcript of the actual speech can be found here):

But what I thought I'd do here is not necessarily extol Clooney's film, but provide a list of other good journalism-based films. So without further ado, here are ten that actual journalists love—and not necessarily because they're good movies (which is probably why you haven't heard of a couple of them—or at least, I hadn't):

Shattered Glass (2003)
Almost Famous (2000)
-30- (1959)
Never Been Kissed (1999)
Teacher's Pet (1958)
Absence of Malice (1981)
Broadcast News (1987)
All the President's Men (1976)
Ace in the Hole (1951)
His Girl Friday (1940)

Also (randomly, and more seriously, culled from another list):

Parallax View (1974)
The Front Page (1928)
Network (of course!) (1976)
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Frost/Nixon (2008)
Wag the Dog (1997)
The Paper (1994)

And of course there's the recent Academy Award winner Spotlight (2015), an excellent film. It's rich territory indeed. And journalism—the Fourth Estate—remains increasingly important and increasingly at peril.

*When I say "Wisconsin again!" I am pained. I love Wisconsin. My dad was from there, I went to graduate school there, I have dear friends and family there (who surely do not accept Paul Ryan as their "representative"). I think of it as a decent, human, loving place. The McCarthys and Ryans notwithstanding.

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