Essayist Clarence Page Reflects on Journalists in Movies

October 4, 2006 at 6:45 PM EDT

CLARENCE PAGE, Chicago Tribune: If the poet Robert Burns were a film critic, he might well say, “Oh, what a gift the movies give us journalists to see ourselves as others see us.” Take, for example, Woody Allen’s movie, “Scoop.” Please.

HUGH JACKMAN, Actor, “Scoop”: You’re very different from the women I usually meet.

SCARLETT JOHANSSON, Actress, “Scoop”: Hmm, I hope that’s a good thing?

HUGH JACKMAN: Well, I just can’t seem to get the vision of you in your swimsuit out of my mind.

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: Oh, I’m glad you liked it. It was marked down.

CLARENCE PAGE: Scarlett Johansson plays an earnest young reporter who promptly sleeps with her source to get a big story.

AARON ECKHART, Actor, “Thank You for Smoking”: This experience has taught me an important lesson: Having sexual affairs with members of the press is just unfair.

CLARENCE PAGE: So does Katie Holmes as another earnest young journalist in “Thank You for Smoking.” The message is clear…

AARON ECKHART: A meaningless affair with a seductress in the form of a young, brunette Washington reporter named…

CLARENCE PAGE: Journalism goes with prostitution like popcorn with movies.

Chasing scoops

JOHN LEGUIZAMO, Actor, "Cronicas" (throughtranslator): We don't need this camera here.

CLARENCE PAGE: It gets worse -- must worse -- in the LatinAmerican thriller "Cronicas." John Leguizamo plays a TV reporter whowill conceal a serial killer from police if that's what it takes for a scoop.

JOHN LEGUIZAMO: But I do want to be able to talk with youabout everything, because I'm not judging you. I just want to understand you.

CLARENCE PAGE: Whatever happened, I wonder, to the old-stylemovie hero reporters like Hildy Johnson in "The Front Page"...

ACTOR: ... even think that for you. Johnson Street, you and I and thegovernor are going to run this town.

CLARENCE PAGE: ... the classic stage play aboutscoop-chasers in prohibition-era Chicago?

ACTOR: Get the typewriter over here. Come on. Stop hoggingon our lead!

ACTOR: How much of this stuff do you want?

ACTOR: All the words you got.

CLARENCE PAGE: In the hilarious remake, "His GirlFriday," Hildy turned up as a woman played by Rosalind Russell, who gotthe big scoop, yet kept her clothes on. Stop the presses.

ACTOR: A new suit and 10 bucks. Almost a dollar a year.

CLARENCE PAGE: Jimmy Stewart pumped up our image even morein "Call Northside 777," based on a real reporter who pursued an old Chicago murder andeventually freed an innocent man.

JASON ROBARDS, Actor, "All the President's Men": Howmuch can you tell me about Deep Throat?

ROBERT REDFORD, Actor, "All the President's Men": Howmuch do you need to know?

CLARENCE PAGE: And Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffmanbreaking the Watergate story in "All the President's Men" sentanother generation of earnest young journos beating a path to newsroom doors.

JASON ROBARDS: Run that baby.

Getting it right

CLARENCE PAGE: But the image of journalists as defender ofthe little guy was turned on its head in "Absence of Malice."

PAUL NEWMAN, Actor, "Absence of Malice": I'mMichael Gallagher.

CLARENCE PAGE: This time, the innocent man, played by PaulNewman, is not freed but implicated in a murder by newspaper reporter SallyField. Her character was too hungry for a scoop to see that she was being usedby a sneaky prosecutor.

PAUL NEWMAN: You got an obligation to tell the truth?

SALLY FIELD, Actress, "Absence of Malice": Ofcourse.

PAUL NEWMAN: Well, if you want to know what's true, how comeyou don't talk to me before you write what they say?

CLARENCE PAGE: There's a warning here, fellow journos: Checkyour sources.

But if Hollywoodis not portraying very many journalistic heroes these days, it's partly becausethe public says they don't see very many. And yet, as much as everyone seems tosay they hate "the media," everyone also seems to have their ownfavorite medium, whether it's the New York Times, or FOX News, or "TheDaily Show."

People appreciate journalists who connect with them. Youwant us to believe your world coverage? Show us how well you do close to home.

MICHAEL KEATON, Actor, "The Paper": I realized,you know, this doesn't exactly get us off on the right foot.

SPAULDING GRAY, Actor, "The Paper": The rightfoot? Are you out of your mind?

CLARENCE PAGE: That's the point of my favorite littlenewspaper movie, "The Paper." Michael Keaton is the city editor of afeisty tabloid. When he turns down a job at a fancy New York Times-type paper,the spurned editor, Spaulding Gray, loses his cool.

SPAULDING GRAY: Well, I hope you're satisfied, (bleep)! Youjust blew your chance to cover the world!

MICHAEL KEATON: Really. Well, guess (bleep) what? I don'treally (bleep) care. You want to know (bleep) why? Because I don't live in the(bleep) world! I live in (bleep) New York City, so go (bleep) yourself!

CLARENCE PAGE: I call "The Paper" a romanticcomedy.

LYNNE THIGPEN, Actress, "The Paper": You handledthat well.

CLARENCE PAGE: It's about what news people love about thenews: nailing down the big stories that connect with people where they live. Thistime, a movie got it right.

MICHAEL KEATON: Stop the presses!

CLARENCE PAGE: I'm Clarence Page.