I stumbled across James L. Brooks’ “Broadcast News” on TV the other night. I have always regarded it as his best movie, in which writing and casting so perfectly dovetail so as to provide a completely enjoyable experience.
Mr. Brooks’ films are less concerned with cinematic chest-pounding so much as observations regarding everyday people living everyday lives. By doing so, he places our attention where it belongs – on great characters and great writing.
You might call the film a romantic comedy, but the truth is that it’s head and shoulders above what passes for that genre these days. William Hurt (Tom), Holly Hunter (Jane) and Albert Brooks (Aaron) are perfectly grounded in real emotion, real behavior and real heartbreak. We buy into every moment because there aren’t any false beats. Mr. Brooks’ best work has always been truthful, and this is no exception.
The most astonishing thing about “Broadcast News,” however, was how far ahead of its time it was regarding the collapse of true journalism. One reason Jane and Aaron enjoy a great friendship – and certainly the reason why Aaron is madly in love with Jane – is their mutual dedication to objective news reporting. They are totally devoted to doing the news the right way – namely, the honest way. No bias. No manipulation.
However, Jane is tempted by Tom, because he’s a handsome male who makes her feel feminine – a side of herself she’s totally unable to embrace.
She knows deep inside, however, that he represents everything she’s been fighting against (as Aaron reminds her). He is only concerned with appearance, audience manipulation, and dishonesty as means to an end – self-promotion and ratings. He’s not smart enough to be a real reporter or anchor, so he slides by on everything except substance.
The beauty of the film’s script is demonstrated in the wonderful scene after Aaron’s hilariously disastrous anchor appearance. It demonstrates how a great writer can weave both the film’s central emotional drama and its intellectual premise at once.
Director Edward Dmytryk once told me in a directing class that, “the most painful scene you can have is a fight between two people who love each other.” This shows exactly why. That’s the emotional context. But it’s Aaron’s other words that really ring true today –
“He’ll just bit by little bit lower our standards where they’re important. Just a tiny little bit. Just coax along, flash over substance. Just a tiny little bit. And he’ll talk about all of us really being salesmen.”
(Or in some cases, crack dealers.)
How right he was. The extraordinary decay of modern journalism to the point where the LA Weekly now outshines most other traditional newspapers in its reporting, and the jaw-dropping bias repeatedly proven to readers by the Media Research Center and at BigJournalism, has shown just how much all those tiny little bits have added up.
Of course, Liberals always point to Fox News yet somehow never mention MSNBC … or anything else. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care what side of the political spectrum the broadcaster is on – if they show bias, they should be ashamed.
There is, however, another part of the film that may give hope to those of us seeking true journalism again (Spoilers Ahead).
The network where the movie takes place goes through massive layoffs at the film’s conclusion. Many people lose their jobs. Tom, of course, is promoted and doesn’t even realize it’s a promotion. The old guard, represented by Robert Prosky, is sent out to pasture.
The film blames the cutbacks on an inability “to program Wednesday night,” suggesting a decline in advertising revenue, necessitating news cutbacks. Brooks was correct again. Network market share has declined dramatically, but that’s not why newspapers around the country are going under, seeing accelerating multi-year declines in circulation, and losing money by the boatloads.
Keep cancelling those newspaper subscriptions, and we just might get them.