Hollywood’s take on journalism doesn’t often look much like the real thing. But a few movies have gotten it right, and they’re at the heart of a film and discussion series at the Newseum, “Reel Journalism with Nick Clooney,” cosponsored by AU’s School of Communication, where Clooney is distinguished journalist in residence.
The joint SOC-Newseum series began this week with a showing of Broadcast News, the 1987 comedy-romance whose heroine, played by Holly Hunter, was modeled on AU graduate and 48 Hours producer Susan Zirinsky.
Zirinsky spoke at the event with veteran newsman Bob Schieffer of CBS news in a discussion led by Clooney and introduced by SOC dean Larry Kirkman. “Reel Journalism expresses the shared mission of SOC and the Newseum to use these great films to promote widespread discussion about the role of journalism in public affairs,” Kirkman said.
“The stories we tell about journalists are significant and influential because they help set our expectations for journalism in our democracy, journalism as a profession and as a public responsibility.”
The two best films about the news business, Schieffer said, are Broadcast News and Good Night, and Good Luck, directed and written by George Clooney, who also plays journalist Fred Friendly in the movie. The film star is said to have acquired his fascination for journalism from his father, Nick Clooney`, a longtime news anchor and columnist who is now teaching opinion writing and a course on influential films at SOC.
Good Night, and Good Luck will also be featured in the Reel Journalism festival, along with Citizen Kane, All the President’s Men, and this week’s feature, Broadcast News, praised by the panelists as a film that is often overlooked but captures the passion that journalists feel for their work.
“A lot of people think it’s a parody or a smartly written romance. But this movie is a documentary,” Schieffer dead-panned. “It’s more like television than anything I’ve seen.”
Television journalists who are defensive about the portrayal of the anchor as charismatic but intellectually limited “should get a life,” he said.
It reflected a concern that was particularly relevant at the time the film was made, Zirinsky said. “There was a lot of worry in the 1980s that the superficial would take over,” she noted. “People came into the business who—well, the light didn’t go to the top floor. But they’re not there anymore. Substance really won out over the superficial.”
Zirinsky told of how she met with writer, director, and actor James Brooks to talk about the news business on the same day she eloped, which also happened to be during the Democratic Convention. She ended up inspiring the character of the hard-charging, deeply committed news producer, and became the technical advisor on the film.
The series is being held at the Newseum, preceded by panel discussions that reflect on the way journalism has been depicted by Hollywood in sometimes accurate and sometimes questionable ways.