Hollywood Myths, Cracked: What Movies And Shows Get Wrong About Journalists
Jobs are hard and incredibly diverse. There’s a huge difference between sticking your hands into an unconscious person to try and save their life and having to talk to people all the live long day about some dumb new banking feature. Both are stressful, while both are vastly different.
Journalism is its own kind of beast, and as much as people get mad at the supposed power of the Fourth Estate, they often forget just how much work goes into investigating stories, cross-checking facts, and getting the right information through to the public so we’ll all stay informed on issues like politics, fraud, and which billionaire is implanting what into a monkey’s pecker.
It’s a tough biz, and one led by ethics that, sure, can get murky sometimes. But according to most Hollywood movies, journalists don’t give a hoot about the E-word, ever. Which is simply ridiculous and would be the same as saying all surgeons dance around to killer beats while their patients have their innards out on the operating room table. What we’re shown on screen and the images we have in our heads don’t always align with reality. Take, for instance …
Myth: Journalists Work One Story At A Time
Much like all lawyers in movies seem to have a single case keeping them busy day and night for months on end, onscreen journalists are often shown to be near obsessive about that one story they need to break, lest they lose all credit or start doing the real hard drugs. In the award-winning film Spotlight, a group of Boston Globe journalists works around the clock to expose abuse in the Catholic Church. Sure, the movie can’t be about all the other stories they’re most definitely working on simultaneously, but in reality, someone would at least express their annoyance at having to also cover some scandal involving, say, a politician funding a friend who can’t stop screwing around with monkey dongs.
Most journalists will spend their day-to-day researching stories and working in the field to get as much information on as many leads as possible. There are countless guides on how to effectively manage your time as a multi-tasking journalist because it can get pretty rough when you have to work on assigned pieces while also coming up with some Pulitzer-worthy article on, say, the unhinged culture of TikTok Elves. Journalists (and writers in general) are notoriously bad at time management — probably because ideas make us excitable, and impulse control takes a lot of energy. It’s necessary, though, because timely stories need immediate attention, and important exposés on issues like systemic abuse or political fraud are crucial to get right and get out to the people ASAP.
The 2019 movie Hustlers circumvents the problem of showing a journalist working a single story by introducing us to Julia Stiles doing a piece on Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez’s fur coat, then having us watch the story about strippers hustling rich dudes without the journalist getting in the way.
What you don’t see is how Stiles’ character probably had to interview a stripper before rushing home to do research on some new Silicon Valley startup called DikPeek.
Myth: (Sigh) Female Journalists And Reporters Don’t Boink Their Subjects All The Time
In the movies, it seems that a female reporter or journalist simply cannot do her job properly without jumping into bed with whoever she’s interviewing. In Crazy Heart, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character sleeps with the broken down Singer Dude she’s doing a story on. In Shonda Rhimes’s Scandal, Pulitzer Prize-winning D.C. journalist Lillian Forrester has to do a profile on the President, only to somehow decide her credibility means nothing because she'd rather make out with him in his limo like a teenager.
Zoe Barnes apparently thought she was some kind of Russian Red Sparrow who had to start screwing the President in House of Cards to get dirt on him. In Parks and Recreations, reporter Shauna apparently sleeps with everyone. Cate Blanchett’s character in Don’t Look Up is ridiculous, sure, but yes, she sleeps with the nerdy Scientist Guy because, apparently, why the hell not?
Even Amy Schumer did it in Trainwreck (although it was with Bill Hader, so we’ll forgive her):
We also saw this pretty sexist trope play out in Iron Man when a Vanity Fair writer interviews Tony Stark, only to end up in his sheets.
There are countless more examples to dump in here, but we’re tired now. Listen, we’re not going to pretend like no woman journalist has ever used sex to get her way with a source or a subject — we’re simply saying that every second movie seems to think this is the only story worth telling. It’s troublesome and enforces a stereotype that undermines women who work in media.
It seems the only actress who's managed to play a journalist without screwing anybody in the story is Rachel McAdams, in both State of Play and Spotlight. And the 2019 rom-com movie Long Shot flipped this stereotype on its head by having Seth Rogen play a journalist who falls for Charlize Theron’s future Madam President character. Okay, she was also his babysitter when they were young, but hey, we guess that’s one for two.
Myth: There’s Always A Single, Mysterious Source
You know the scene: An investigative journalist gets an anonymous call telling them to go to some dark underground parking garage or side alley that’s always steamy. When they get there, a shadow figure emerges (probably smoking), only to share some vital piece of information the journalist sorely needs to beat the clock on said investigation. It’s dramatic, it’s familiar, and it almost never plays out like a neo-noir movie.
All The President’s Men really perpetuated this idea that, at the center of a breaking scandal, there is but one single and mysterious source. The whole Watergate saga, in fact, relied on multiple sources — not just their “key source” — as do most big real-world stories. But hey, we need one Guy In The Shadows, a la “Deep Throat,” right?
In an episode of Ted Lasso, a sportswriter tells Ted about a story they’ve written that would damage the beloved coach’s reputation, claiming an anonymous source provided the information. Almost never will you see a hit-piece article quote a single source, especially if it’s a big and juicy story. Sure, there may well be a key source that’s able to provide more info than the rest, but banking a theory on the words of one single person is grossly inept, simply laughable, and would get thrown out by most any editor.
Myth: Editors Are The Worst, Most Miserable People
Gosh, news editors sure are the worst. That is, according to the talkies. They’re either always angry, mostly screaming, super passive-aggressive, and just general jerks like Vivian Kent’s editor in Netflix’s Inventing Anna. Or, they look like they have the worst job in the world and would much rather sell car insurance like Tom Hammerschmidt, Zoe Barnes’s editor in House of Cards.
Either that or they’re just bad-tempered, with a glass of booze or a fat cigar permanently stapled to their hands. Like John Slattery, who plays Fletch’s former newspaper editor in Confess, Fletch:
And, of course, comics' contribution to this stereotype of a-hole editors in the form of Perry White, the Daily Planet editor in D.C. movies:
As well as everyone’s favorite-least-favorite Alex Jones-type spitting mothball with a mustache, J. Jonah Jameson of The Daily Bugle:
Sure, there are editors out there with foul temperaments and anger/alcohol problems, but we’ll say this: Most humans won’t tolerate someone, anyone, yelling at them day in and day out like some sadistic dictator. No amount of money paid to write about primate genitalia is worth it.
Zanandi is on Twitter.
Thumbnail: Open Roads Films, Columbia Pictures