Investigating the News Through Movies

Redford and Hoffman starring in "All The President's Men."

Redford and Hoffman starring in “All The President’s Men.”

Bumping your head and puncturing a lung forces you to slow down just a bit. Slowing down allows you to take the time to smell the roses, or at least include a nap or two as part of your recovery. Naps aren’t a bad thing, but in America, napping is seen as weakness. That discussion about our hustling nature will have to wait ‘til later, when I’m back at 100 percent.

Friday afternoon, after a full day of work, I hit the wall about 4:00 and decided to chill, lie down, and I flicked on the Tee Vee. Playing on the Sundance Channel was All the President’s Men, certainly a 5-star movie, one that garnered an Academy Award, and also a movie I’ve never watched. This is surprising given my interest in the subject matter, plus it was a 1970s movie, a period of great Hollywood titles, in my opinion, when movies were based on real-life, rather than cartoons.

This classic movie from 1976 is based on the 1974 nonfiction book of the same name by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. They were the journalists who broke the Watergate scandal for the Washington Post. A very young Robert Redford and equally youthful Dustin Hoffman play Woodward and Bernstein, respectively.

Redford and Hoffman were great. Jason Robards was equally terrific as the Post’s Ben Bradley, the ballsy executive editor at the time and the one who had the final check-off on Woodward and Bernstein’s initial investigative work. He put himself at great risk in running with two virtually unknown reporters when he was being pushed by others at the paper to go with more experienced reporters. In fact, Bernstein was close to being fired at the time, and Woodward had only been at the Post for nine months.

The movie is excellent on a couple of levels. One, it demonstrates the important role that newspapers once occupied in disseminating information, especially serving as a check on government excesses and clear abuses of power, like Nixon’s. It also highlighted what investigative journalism used to entail.

Both Redford and Hoffman captured the gumshoe activities of Woodward and Bernstein, going door-to-door, working tirelessly to source their material, meeting anonymous sources in darkened parking garages (“Deep Throat”), and doing the kind of digging that most of today’s so-called journalists refuse to do. No, today the Google search constitutes legwork for most journalists, especially the young ones coming out of J-schools. Also, this was before newspapers gutted staffs and technology turned journalism in PR/Marketing and advertorials instead.

I did catch a blurb in this morning’s Maine Sunday Telegram (sourced from the LA Times) that Al Jazeera America is launching on Tuesday. This is gonna’ freak out the Fox News/Rush Limbaugh crowd, for sure.

Executives at Al Jazeera America are pledging to cover the U.S. domestic market, and have opened bureaus in cities they considered under-served, such as Detroit, New Orleans and Nashville. It hired ABC news veteran Kate O’Brian to be its president, and other news vets like former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien, ex-CBS News reporters Sheila MacVicar and Joie Chen and former NBC News anchor John Seigenthaler.

In my opinion, we could use a few more reporters like Woodward and Bernstein today. I think this news network is a step back in that direction.

One thought on “Investigating the News Through Movies

  1. Jim,

    This was a provocative post, especially as I think about Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee as defined in his Wikipedia biography. I note this interesting tidbit:

    “In 1952 Bradlee joined the staff of the Office of U.S. Information and Educational Exchange (USIE), the embassy’s propaganda unit. USIE produced films, magazines, research, speeches, and news items for use by the CIA throughout Europe.”

    “Media” for much of its existence, has been controlled by its owners. Unless a person had tremendous means, they couldn’t start up a newspaper. So the “gatekeepers” or “owners” of any media source ultimately control the message.

    I agree, Al Jazeera America will be an interesting source of information. Another great place to get objective news about America is RT, previously known as Russia Today.

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