Using the fact that The Fifth Estate is still in cinemas as a flimsy pretext, here are some top 5 lists of journalists in film and television. Even though Julian Assange isn’t exactly a journalist. I told you it was flimsy.
Sisters is the first of Brian De Palma’s many Hitchcockian thrillers and sees a young journalist witness a brutal murder, only to be ignored by the police, all to a Bernard Herrman score. I told you it was Hitchcockian. Incidentally, Jennifer Salt is now a writer and producer on the excellent American Horror Story.
Frank Henenlotter’s appealingly bonkers sequel features a journalist investigating a house of “freaks”. This is a classic case of journalists being represented as cynical and exploitative, satirising the “freak show mentality” of the tabloid press. Needless to say, things don’t turn out all too well for this particular reporter.
A journalist investigates a cursed videotape in this J-horror classic. I’ve not seen the Hollywood remake, in which she’s played by Naomi “Diana” Watts, with a script by Ehren “Transformers” Kruger, directed by Gore “Pirates of the Caribbean” Verbinski – and I’m quite happy for it to stay that way.
Talking of remakes, here’s one of the few good ones! David Cronenberg’s The Fly stars Geena Davis as a journalist for Particle Magazine who has an affair with Jeff Goldblum’s half-man half-fly. Davis and Goldblum got married the following year – she must have really liked watching him corrode someone’s hand off with his vomit.
Monica from Friends plays a reporter investigating the Woodsboro murders in Wes Craven’s brilliant Scream. This is another nasty journalist, but a great character thanks to Courtney Cox (Arquette – it was on set here that she met her future husband) and her skill as a comic actor. Interestingly, this list is entirely made up of women. That’s horror films for you.
5. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford) – All The President’s Men (1976)
Alan J. Pakula’s impressive dramatisation of the Watergate scandal presents journalists in a much more favourable light, as Bernstein and Woodward bravely explore the increasingly dangerous world of government corruption. Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford never married.
Taking clear inspiration from All The President’s Men, David Fincher’s superb Zodiac follows a reporter and a cartoonist attempting to solve the real-life case of the Zodiac Killer, and the devastating effect it has on their lives. Though not as devastating as the effect it has on the actual victim’s lives, obviously.
3. Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) – Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
Another celebration of the bravery and importance of journalism comes in George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck, the true story of Edward R. Murrow and his CBS news team taking on McCarthyism. Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Daniels play supporting parts and would both go on to star as journalists.
While print journalism was being praised in All The President’s Men, TV journalism was being viciously satirised in Sidney Lumet’s incredible Network. A news anchor learns he is to be sacked due to declining ratings and threatens to kill himself live on air. Network is not based on a true story in the same way as the previous films on this list, but is inspired by the real-life on-air suicide of news reporter Christine Chubbuck.
The best journalist in movie history is the aptly named Tim Messenger in Hot Fuzz, wonderfully played by the amazing Adam Buxton, who brings likability to the role of the slightly incompetent reporter. Spoiler alert: He also has one of the best deaths in movie history. Look, all the journalists on this list are men. That’s other films for you.
5. Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) – American Horror Story
Not unlike Marcie Elly in Basket Case 2, Lana Winters enters a mental institution called Briarcliff to expose its mistreatment of patients, her motives perhaps more self-serving than compassionate. But once she steps inside the asylum, they don’t let her out. American Horror Story is so nuts and so great, and did you know Jennifer Salt serves as a writer and producer?
Part of The Simpsons‘ power is in satirising every possible aspect of society, and that includes journalists, hence Kent Brockman – overzealous, overpaid and ever so slightly insane. Needless to say, this is one of the less favourable representations of journalists. “This just in: Go to hell!”
An even funnier set of journalists from the mind of Matt Groening are Futurama‘s news anchors – a big green alien who shouts about taking over Earth and a facile alcoholic who laughs at the most tragic of news stories. But enough about Fox News…
Paul Abbott’s State of Play remains one of Britain’s greatest pieces of television and revolves around journalists, as they untangle a thorny mess of violent crime and political corruption. The strong cast includes John Simm, David Morrissey and Kelly Macdonald, replaced in the Hollywood remake by Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams. As they say in journalism, no comment.
A TV show about a TV show, Sports Night is Aaron Sorkin’s first series and clear pre-cursor to The Newsroom. If anyone can make sports journalism interesting, it’s the guy who made the creation of Facebook into a hit movie. That it was never released on Region 2 DVD is one of the world’s greatest injustices. Sort it out, Assange.