From Watergate to 'House of Cards': Journalists not always true-to-life on film

Written by Kim Lyons on .


Zoe Barnes, played by Kate Mara in "House of Cards."

SPOILER ALERT: If you're not caught up on the current season of House of Cards, mild spoilers ahead.

Much has been written about the portrayal of journalists in the Netflix series "House of Cards." For the most part, the show's fictional reporters are examples of what not to do; they sleep with sources in exchange for information, contact shady computer hackers (whose portrayal is a whole other level of fiction) to help them break the law, and promise to print whatever a source tells them, among other things. One older editor even decries the rise of blogs and Twitter (he's actually a slightly more realistic character, a version of whom a few print reporters have likely come across).

As any reputable journalist knows, most of the antics of HoC's girl reporter Zoe Barnes would get a real reporter fired.  The only truly realistic journalists in the series are the real-life journalists who appear as themselves (Matt Bai and Ashleigh Banfield).

But there is a long history of potraying reporters in movies and on television as more interesting and less realistic than we really are. If you tried to make a movie about what the average reporter does on a given day, it would likely involve a vending machine lunch, waiting for return phone calls, staking out a crime scene in the freezing cold, waiting for a police spokesman to take pity on you and tell you what's happening, and cursing at the computer that has crashed (AGAIN) and lost the 1,000 word story that's already way past deadline.

Not the sexiest job in the world.

The venerable Bob Woodward once said sometimes when people meet him they are disappointed that he doesn't look more like Robert Redford, who portrayed Woodward in the 1976 film "All the President's Men." That movie was, of course, based on the book Woodward co-authored with fellow Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein (played by Dustin Hoffman in the film), about their reporting on the 1972 break-in at the Watergate Hotel and subsequent coverup by members of President Nixon's administration (read your history, kids).
But All the President's Men was a mostly realistic portrayal of how the reporters got the story.

With the Oscars coming up this weekend, we were thinking about other movies that depict journos, good, bad and otherwise. Newscastic put together a pretty decent list of 10 Movies Every Journalist Should Watch (even though the headline isn't in AP style), and the PG's Barb Vancheri  wrote about the topic of unrealistic journalist movies back in 2007.

Which newsroom-based movie is your favorite, and who's your favorite fictional reporter?

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Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as Bernstein and Woodward in "All the President's Men." You can see clear evidence of fast-food dining, sadly a staple of many a reporter's diet...





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