In movies, breaking news updates are a convenient way to move the plot along without doing any of that difficult "writing." Our protagonists can simply turn on a TV and immediately learn that there's a dance contest awarding the exact amount of money they need to save the community center. But sometimes, taking that convenient shortcut accidentally suggests that these fictional newsrooms are run by complete maniacs who shouldn't be trusted with an elementary school newsletter. For instance ...
In real life, headlines are reserved for major stories only, while in pop culture, everything relevant to the plot has to be on the front page. Take 101 Dalmatians, in which 15 puppies of an unspecified breed get dognapped, and this makes the front page of multiple papers.
Walt Disney Pictures
This isn't a local paper on a slow day; Reynold's News was a real national paper. One which apparently thinks that government overspending and the upcoming French atomic bomb test should take a back seat to "London Socialites' Dogs go Missing."
Walt Disney Pictures
Atrocious formatting aside (Is "Thieves Flee" a separate story? It has its own border, but if so, "Escape in Car" would make no sense), this is Sunday Graphic, another national paper which dedicated their entire front page to goddamn puppies. Sure, national papers do fluff stories, but they don't focus on them. That's like The Washington Post leading with "Keyboard Cat Dies."
Columbia University offers some useful pointers for aspiring journalists on how to conduct interviews: You should prepare carefully, establish an honest relationship with your subject, and listen attentively. Note that nowhere does it suggest you should be an attentive lover. Countless movies believe that reporters (almost exclusively female ones) constantly throw away their objectivity by sleeping with their sources. Remember the first Iron Man, in which a Vanity Fair reporter asks Tony Stark a few questions, then immediately poses a follow-up: "Should we bone?"
You can't give an objective profile on someone who was great in bed last night (come on, you know he was great). This unique form of in-depth journalism can also be seen in House Of Cards, 50 Shades Of Grey, Top Five, Thank You For Smoking, Trainwreck, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, Crazy Heart, Adaptation, Three Kings, and Gilmore Girls. At best, these fictional reporters are doing it to chase a story, because screenwriters think the only tool available to them is their vaginas. At worst, they do it for the sake of having casual sex, because what's a little professional integrity against getting laid? Actual female journalists are even getting annoyed by the trope.
Meanwhile, male journalists might be manipulative or rude, but almost always resourceful in ways that don't involve their genitals. For example, in Frost/Nixon, David Frost performs an excellent interview, and somehow manages to resist going down on Nixon in the green room. How on Earth did he manage that?
Turn on CNN during any major news event, and they're bound to have the words "Breaking News" flashing across the screen. In pop culture, however, the news takes the complete opposite approach, never applying a sense of urgency even when it would be completely appropriate to do so. During the final fight scene of Spider-Man 3, a stronger and scarier version of Spider-Man joins forces with a giant sandstorm to fight our hero, a sentence that mostly makes sense in context. Let's go live to ... Channel 8 News?
Instead of showing their viewers the action, Channel 8 decides to have their reporter tell us "this could be the end of Spider-Man" without any breaking news notices, or even a freaking photo onscreen. Anyone watching this on mute in, say, a restaurant or an airport, would think he was discussing the municipal budget instead of the deadly battle rampaging through New York City -- something a local New Yorker might want to know about.
Next we have House Of Cards, which uses real networks to add immersion. But in Season 4, they treat the attempted assassination of the president like it's a local interest story.
You might assume it had been years since the attempt, and then the reporter says "it occurred about 10 minutes ago" with all the enthusiasm of someone describing their cat vomiting on the carpet. They don't know whether or not the president, the most powerful man in the world, survived his trip to the hospital, and yet they're acting like they want to get back to covering the local softball's team miraculous run to the county championship.
Early in Batman & Superman v. Quality Filmmaking, Clark Kent tells Daily Planet editor Perry White that there's a crime wave in Gotham which could be directly related to Batman. Perry tells him to drop the story and orders him to the sports section, because all journalistic skills and specialties are interchangeable. Clark ignores White and follows up on the Batman story anyway, leading to this shot of the Sports section with a giant gap in it:
Warner Bros. Pictures
That's the main article in the section. It's clearly a big deal. And as we see in scenes set at the paper's office, they have a lot of staff. They would employ at least one, if not several, sports writers. White went and gave the main story about a professional football team to a junior reporter who doesn't even cover sports. And he's shocked that didn't work out? How did he get his job? And who let a blank page be printed?
In Season 1 of Daredevil, investigative reporter Ben Urich is fighting an uphill battle against his boss, trying to get traction on a story about the main villain, Wilson Fisk. From the moment we meet Ben, it's clear that he's a grizzled veteran who exposes the facts and gets to the bottom of stories that other people ignore. This is a man who tries to shake society to its core. So why are the framed articles in his office on the "Harlem Terror" and the "Battle of NY"?
Those are about the Hulk battling Abomination and a giant portal opening up to unleash a horde of aliens that fought the Avengers. There's no scoop there. Literally every newspaper in the country would have run the exact same story. We get that it's an Easter Egg meant to establish continuity between the show and Marvel's 8,000 movies, but it's sad to realize that this investigative journalist's proudest moments in decades of work were two of the most obvious stories in human history.
Newspapers are generally pretty frugal, what with their industry slowly dying and all. The people who write movies and television do not seem to understand this. Sex And The City's Carrie Bradshaw, for example, is living an absurdly luxurious lifestyle possible only in fiction. De Elizabeth from the Financial Diet looked at her expenses and found that, at minimum, she would need to be making double the industry average to live like she does, all for writing a single sex column. No journalist could ever maintain Bradshaw's shoe habit on a realistic salary. It's like a guy who writes a column on dog care tips demanding six figures and a corner office.
In the sequel, she doesn't even live there. She only keeps it for the occasional writing session.
In Never Been Kissed, a copyeditor is paid to go undercover for an entire high school semester just to understand what the kids these days are up to. Then, when another newspaper beats them to a story on teens having sex and drinking (clearly a scoop only an undercover reporter could snag!), they double down and invest in hidden cameras.
Crocodile Dundee is somehow even more reckless. Newsday pays to have reporter Sue Charlton fly from America to rural Australia to get an interview with a bush ranger based on a wild rumor. Not once in the process of booking airplane tickets, accommodation, and a private helicopter did anyone bother to check whether the stories about a man having his leg bitten off by a crocodile had any truth to them. (Guess what? They didn't!) And yet, because Sue has a crush on the guy, she somehow convinces her bosses to fly him to New York City and put him up in a first-class hotel. Meanwhile, real newspapers are going under because some intern accidentally ordered double cheese on Larry's sandwich, and nobody could cover the unexpected cost.
In the latest Godzilla, a giant monster emerges from the sea, wrecks shit for a while, then returns to the depths for a breather. What do you think the headlines should be? "Thousands Dead And Missing In Sea Monster Attack"? Nah, the headline they went with was "King Of The Monsters -- Savior Of Our City?" Shown while Godzilla was still walking around. In-universe, only a total maniac would greenlight that headline in the wake of so much destruction and misery.
Warner Bros. Pictures
In Watchmen, Ozymandias secretly murders countless people in cities across the globe, all in an effort to avoid nuclear war by giving everyone a common enemy in Dr. Manhattan. The plan works, as far as the protagonists are concerned, but they're unaware that Rorschach left his journal in the "crank file" of right-wing publication The New Frontiersman. Before the film ends, we see their editor complaining to some young writer that since all nations are now holding hands in peace, there's nothing left to report on. They eventually decide to run something from the crank file, and there's the journal, right on top, only recently arrived. That means this scene is happening mere days after the destruction of several major cities worldwide. Just a few days after the biggest mass murder in human history. How the fuck is there nothing to report on? They're basically the Breitbart of this universe. You'd think they'd have a lot to say about the United States making peace with the Soviet Union, if nothing else.
The writers would like to thank J.F. Sargent for this article idea. Quinn "Yes, It's Pronounced 'Kenobi'" Knobbe is a child who never grew up. For more of his idiotic musings, follow his Facebook here. Mike Bedard wrote for the UCLA school newspaper for exactly one year. You can follow him on Twitter, where that journalism past never comes up. Sam Hurley co-hosts the funniest movie review podcast you've never heard, available now on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and via smoke signals in New Zealand. He also tweets unrequited appreciation at his fave celebs here.
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