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Gwen’s Take: Don’t believe everything you see on ‘Sherlock’

bio-ifill
Co-Anchor & Managing Editor
BY Gwen Ifill  February 7, 2014 at 12:03 PM EDT
"Sherlock" airs on PBS Sundays through Feb. 2.

“Sherlock” airs on PBS Sundays through Feb. 2.

SPOILER ALERT: I am about to reveal at least one of the developments that unspooled on last week’s finale of the brutally short season of “Sherlock” on PBS.

In one scene, the bad guy –- an evil newspaper publisher who apparently controls all of London -– dares our hero to stop him as he uses his newspaper to destroy people at will by discovering their “pressure points” and exploiting them.

Sherlock objects. How can you print these things if you can’t prove them?

“I’m in news, you moron,” the publisher replies ominously. “I don’t have to prove it. I just have to print it.”

I thought this was a pretty funny line, mostly because I know it to be completely the opposite of my experience.

In fact, most of the working journalists I know go to great lengths to prove things. They resort to legal means to obtain documents. They read through dry Congressional Budget Office reports to discern whether Obamacare will, in fact, cost people jobs. (It won’t.)

But, most important, they risk personal safety to tell the stories powerful forces do not want told.

There were 78 assaults against journalists in Egypt between August 2012 and July 2013.

Thirty-six journalists have been murdered in Russia since 1992 -– two last year. No one has been brought to justice in 32 of those cases.

In Syria, at least 29 journalists were killed in 2013; 30 more remain unaccounted for.

The list, compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists on its “Risk List,” goes on, meandering through Vietnam, Turkey, Bangladesh, Liberia, Ecuador and Zambia.

I guess my point is that as amusing as fiction can be, it often worries me that people believe it. They watch “House of Cards” (Netflix) and believe all politicians are venal (not to mention capable of murder), or that women reporters routinely sleep with their sources for information.

They watch “The Newsroom” (HBO) and believe that reporters are either lazy or heroic. Or at least annoying, which actually is often true.

They watch “Sherlock” and believe newspaper publishers patterned after moguls like Rupert Murdoch not only employ journalists who hack phones (which, once again, is sometimes so), but also that they will bring down the Queen if need be.

It’s all very enjoyable if you remember that it is fiction. Reality, as always, is so much more sobering. If you doubt this, read the names on the CPJ site.

Then you can forgive me for spoiling “Sherlock” for you.