Friday, August 8, 2014

Hoffman and History

I remember this day in U.S. presidential history.  I was a student and, like millions of others, I was watching the special news telecast that interrupted all regular programming.  President Nixon was resigning.
This was major history, 1974 history that would be included at the end of the Oscar-winning movie, All  the President's Men starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford.
Dustin Hoffman played Carl Bernstein and Robert Redford played Bob Woodward, the two Washington Post reporters whose investigative journalism uncovered details of the Watergate scandal and triggered the decline and fall of the Nixon administration.
Today, when a big scandal breaks in the news, the suffix gate is tagged onto the end of a word or name in reference to the political crime.  Think Monica-gate used by some news outlets during Bill Clinton's Monica Lewinski scandal.

Today is also the birthday of 2-time Best Actor Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman.

One thing I definitely recall about watching President Richard Nixon that day on live television was that his speech in which he announced that he'd quit his post -- and would be America's first president ever to do so -- took half the amount of time that the Tiger Woods apology took when, for some reason, network news broke into daytime programming to telecast the golf pro's mea culpa for marital infidelity.

President Nixon.  Tiger Woods.  Hello?!?! That really showed how television had changed.

Nixon's resignation, to me, changed television.  Television news and the people who report it.
The movie adaptation of the best selling book written by Bernstein and Woodward was a big box office hit in 1976.  Especially with young moviegoers.  It was an Oscar nominee Best Picture of 1976.

Yesterday on National Public Radio, I heard a journalist remark that the power of the press leading to Nixon's resignation made hundreds of young American students want to major in journalism to become investigative reporters.  History, the best-selling book by the reporters who uncovered the details of the Watergate break-in, and the hit movie adaptation of their book made journalism sexy.

The NPR journalist added that college kids wanted to be Woodward and Bernstein.

I was in college when the movie was out and making money.  I remember guys on my dorm floor buzzing about how good the movie was.  Some of those guys were journalism students.  I still feel that many of the journalism students didn't want to be Woodward and Bernstein so much as they wanted to by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as Woodward and Bernstein.
They wanted to be well-paid celebrities who covered the news.  When the movie was out, that was also the dawn of the celebrity investigative young reporter.  Gerald Rivera is a top example.

Today, you can be a network news reporter even if you had no prior TV and/or journalism skills.  Billy Bush, related to two former presidents, was hired by NBC News as was Jenna Bush Hager, also related to the same two former presidents.  They were celebrities, if you will, in that they were related to men who sat in the Oval Office.  Billy had no previous TV news experience when he was hired by local WNBC.  He'd been a rock radio morning show host.  He went network on he Today Show about four months after his local debut.  Jenna had no journalism experience when she was added to the Today Show reporters team.  Monica Lewinsky is now a contributor Vanity Fair magazine.  News reporting and the people who report it -- what a different game it is today.

Rent All the President's Men and see how news was gathered back in the day with less technology.  Reporters used libraries, rotary telephones and typewriters.  They did exhausting footwork.  They took copious notes in longhand and kept steno pads with all their notes in them.  They used contacts and sources.  They checked, rechecked and re-rechecked their facts.  It was not glamorous work.  Nor was it easy.

This was Old School Journalism.  On Twitter, it seems like some people consider themselves to be journalists merely for re-Tweeting news articles written by someone else.

Another big change -- when I was young, we watched news anchors and reporters.  Ours was a Cronkite family.  Watching Walter Cronkite anchor the news on CBS was part of our weekday routine.

I watched Cronkite, Morton Dean, Eric Sevareid, Howard K Smith, David Brinkley, Mike Wallace, Peter Jennings, Max Robinson and other network journalists.  In my groups of friends and neighbors, I wasn't the only one who watched their work.  In high school, teachers showed us the acclaimed Edward R. Murrow news specials like Harvest of Shame.

Today, I rarely hear folks discuss the news they heard from an anchor or a moving report they saw from a certain journalist.  Folks today seem to prefer getting their news from comedians:  Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher and now John Oliver on HBO.  They like their news with laughs.

Maybe that's because the comedians are asking the tough, probing, intelligent questions that some reporters should be asking.

American presidential history and American journalism changed on this day in 1974.  On this day before 1974, a great actor was born.  Happy Birthday, Dustin Hoffman.

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