Thursday, July 19, 2018

Power of the Press Double Feature

It was early August in 1974.  A sunny, hot weekday in South Central Los Angeles.  I was home, on summer vacation, and stood in our living room watching the special news telecast that had interrupted regular programming on CBS.  I was a teenager and thought to myself regarding White House activity, "It can't get any stranger than this."  President Richard M. Nixon was on live TV announcing his resignation to the nation.  Because of the Watergate scandal and the steely determination of investigative journalists at The Washington Post, we Americans learned that Nixon had violated our trust and had disrespected the Constitution.  That day we also realized -- at least I did -- how lucky we are to live in a country that has a free press.  This milestone in American history and in American journalism was played out in the hit movie, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as newspaper reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
This fine film, directed by Alan J. Pakula, was so powerful and so popular with young movie-goers that enrollment in journalism classes in colleges increased.
Look at where we are today.  We're living out the dark side of the old American statement on this being a land of opportunity:  "Any kid can grow up to be president."  Look at the kid who grew up and became our current president.  Like a character created in a screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, he's a womanizing millionaire with no military service or prior political experience to his credit.  He seemed to be an idol of white yuppie males back in the 80s.  His celebrity status increased when a top network made him the host of a hit reality game show.  As a TV celebrity. he constantly proclaimed off the set that Barack Obama, American's first black President of the United States, was not a true American and he demanded to see the president's birth certificate.   He was dropped from the show for making derogatory remarks in public about Mexicans.  His next job?  He was elected President of the United States.  Now, in a politically disturbing bromance with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he gives many of us the queasy feeling that he's complicit in wanting to turn the U.S.A. into the U.S.S.A.

Personally, I think we were better off when he was a reality TV game show host.

If you're a member of the press and you have some free time this coming weekend, here's my double feature movie tip for you.  First, watch THE POST, directed by Steven Spielberg.  It stars Tom Hanks, as Ben Bradlee, the ballsy editor of The Washington Post and Meryl Streep as Kay Graham, publisher of the newspaper.  As first, Kay seems insecure in her duties. She's in a business in which she's only the only woman present and she's surrounded by men who don't listen to her.  When the Pentagon Papers story breaks, she will find her voice -- and grow some brass ovaries. She'll be a great partner for Bradlee.

We're now in an age in which most of the movies that bring in big bucks at the box office have caped characters who zoom through the air in action fantasies.  THE POST should have brought in big money and influenced young movie-goers the way ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN did.  It's got Spielberg, Hanks and Streep in peak form in a story that's urgent and relevant today.  Watch this 2017 film and keep in mind that this story happened before the Watergate scandal broke.  Here's a trailer.
As Kay Graham says in THE POST, news is "...the first rough draft of history."

After THE POST, watch ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN.  This story also takes us to the offices of The Washington Post.  We'll see Jason Robards as Ben Bradlee in this one.  (He got a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for it.  He's good.  However, Hanks delivered a more accurate portrayal of Bradlee in carriage, attitude and cadence of speech.  But he didn't get nominated.)  This story occurs after The Washington Post established itself as a serious contender in the world of newspaper journalism with its reports on the Pentagon Papers.  Here's a trailer for the 1976 film.
Now watch this scene from ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN and think of all the investigative work that the journalists did.  It was done back in the day before cable news and a 24-hour news cycle.  It was done before we had laptops, Wikipedia, Google, cellphones, text messages and social media.  Reporters used rotary phones, pay phones, they did painstaking research in a library and they used typewriters.  Look at what they accomplished for democracy.

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