The Image of the Washington Journalist in Movies and Television, 1932 to 2013 will get its international premiere at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) Conference in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 9. The eight-and-a-half hour video compilation is the latest project of the Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture (IJPC), based at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
“In analyzing more than 126 films and TV programs,” said Professor and IJPC Director Joe Saltzman, “we discovered that the Washington journalist is one of the more heroic images of the journalist in popular culture. The majority of Washington journalists in most of the 20th century have been depicted as wanting to serve the public interest and inform the people.”
Saltzman pointed out that many of these Washington journalists “serve as watchdogs to ensure that those who wield power are doing so in service of the people and not for personal, political or financial gain.”
A 13-minute preview of the video will be presented during an AEJMC panel sponsored by the history division and the Entertainment Studies Group on Aug. 9 from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C.
“Our research reveals that the Washington journalist is often an investigative journalist trying to ferret out corruption that affects the public interest,” Saltzman said. “They may be comic figures or serious dramatic figures, but they always seem intent on doing the right thing and exposing crooked politicians to public scrutiny.”
Saltzman has been researching the image of the journalist for more than two decades and is author of Frank Capra and the Image of the Journalist in American Film.
For the most part, female journalists are presented positively.
“Some might do unscrupulous things in getting the story, but in the end they are heroic because their stories expose wrongdoing in the nation’s capital,” Saltzman said.
The great majority of Washington journalists depicted, however, don’t have names and usually show up at press conferences with the president or members of Congress.
“They are usually seen shouting out questions or listening in shock when something extraordinary is being told to them,” said Saltzman, who added that sometimes members of the Washington press corps are real-life journalists, including Richard Reeves and the late Helen Thomas, one of the most famous Washington journalists at presidential news conferences. There are also plenty of parodies of the presidential press conference, the most famous being those portrayed on Saturday Night Live.
The video compilation reveals knockoffs and parodies of Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who were immortalized as Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in All the President’s Men. Other images include everyone from corrupt journalists who blackmail politicians to get what they want to a Washington journalist who turns out to be a werewolf.