These films have helped to establish stereotypes that have proved adhesive; on-screen journalists tend to be hard-boiled, hard-living, cynical types, typically with complicated personal lives. Their exploits are often set against dramatic historical backdrops . Handled with subtlety they make for good, satisfying entertainment.
We all have our favourites; Network (1976) about the anchorman who goes rogue under stress and begins blurting out increasingly wild statements is thought-provoking and entertaining; Broadcast News (1987) about an ambitious TV news executive is very knowing about the business; The Post (2017) about the crisis of loyalties that the proprietor of The Washington Post, Katherine Graham experienced over publishing The Pentagon Papers was a compelling rendition of an important story.
But the apotheosis of the hero-journalist movie is All the President’s Men, (1976) about the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon. Directed by Alan J Pakula it is a film that regularly features in list of “best-ever movies” and it catapulted reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward into the journalistic pantheon.
In the film the two young journalists, with the help of an inside source ‘Deep Throat’, eventually drag the story of the Watergate break-in into the open; it is the stuff of liberal dreams. The right-wing Nixon administration makes for the most satisfying villain imaginable for a movie industry which has always inclined to the liberal- left. In this version of reality what stands between the citizen and a wicked government is the ever-watchful, incorruptible US media.
Which brings me to the gulf between the myth and the more problematic reality. All the films mentioned above are American and we have just witnessed the American media fulfilling its duty during that most crucial of events in the life of any democracy, a general election. To say that the mainstream US media was a player in the campaign, that has (apparently) brought us President Biden, is a wild understatement. All the big American media outlets (Fox News excepted), from CNN to the New York Times to the LA Times to Twitter and Facebook were stalwart partisans on the Democrat side.
They were, to coin a phrase, All the Vice President’s Men. They invested so heavily in Biden that all sense of balance and fairness was lost in a do-or-die effort to bring their chosen man to the White House. This potent alliance between the media and other elements of the liberal establishment emerged four years ago immediately after the Trump victory and during the course of his presidency it hardened into a united and militant opposition. It strove to undermine Trump from Day One with strategies like the fake ‘Russian collusion’ story being used to de-stabilise and de-legitimise the greenhorn president.