Occasionally, when journalists at a party or on social media ask one another our favorite newspaper (or journalism) movies, I will answer, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”
Of course, no one thinks of “Liberty Valance” as a journalism movie. It’s a Western. But the whole movie is told through an interview between Ransom Stoddard and Charlie Hasbrouck, a reporter for the Shinbone Star. One of the key characters, Dutton Peabody, is editor and publisher of the Shinbone Star.
I thought about “Liberty” as I was writing an accompanying post about journalism scenes in three recently released movies. What I want to do here is share some favorite journalism scenes from non-journalism movies and ask you about some of your favorites.
Journalists all have our favorite journalism movies (or specifically newspaper movies). Off the top of my head, my favorite non-fiction journalism movie is “All the President’s Men” and “Deadline USA” is my favorite fiction journalism movie. But you might remind me of one I’m forgetting or convince me of another. Or in a different mood I might pick another on my own.
I won’t try to compile my favorite journalism movies or asking you to submit yours. If you’re interested in such a list, check out those compiled by Dan Barry, Robert Feder, Time magazine and John Greco.
What I’m interested in here is movies like “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Despite its journalism scenes, it’s no more a journalism movie than it’s a law movie (Stoddard is a lawyer) or a politics movie (he later becomes a senator, and a key scene takes place at a political convention) or a restaurant movie (much of the action takes place in or right outside the restaurant run by Peter and Nora Ericson and Valance derides Stoddard as a “hash slinger” for working in the restaurant). It’s a Western.
Of course, it might not always be that clear what is a journalism movie. Is every Superman (and Spiderman) movie a journalism movie because Clark Kent and Peter Parker were a reporter and a photographer? Or were those all super-hero movies and every journalism scene counts for our discussions here?
And I’m not going to get into all the movies that used newspaper headlines (often whirling) to advance a story that’s not about newspapers or all of the movies with scenes with a pack of reporters and photographers hounding the character who’s in the news. Those are all too plentiful, though they do underscore my point that journalism is a universal part of life (made in the accompanying post).
This isn’t an attempt to be comprehensive at all, just to share a little journalism fun on a holiday.
Let’s start with “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” since I’ve admitted that it’s not a newspaper movie. In this clip, Valance beats up Peabody and leaves him for dead. Peabody’s offense was to report on Valance’s defeat in his effort to be named a delegate to the statehood convention.
In an earlier scene, the drunken Peabody spotted his typo in the headline:
This clip near the end of the movie is a great line but journalistic BS:
Alas, I could not find on YouTube a clip of Peabody’s great speech about journalistic independence. Stoddard has ordered the bar closed for the election of Shinbone’s representative to the territorial convention. And Peabody is nominated. While I couldn’t find the video clip, Dictionary.com has the dialogue:
Dutton Peabody: No. I’m a newspaperman not a politician. Politicians are my meat. I build ’em up. I tear ’em down. But I, I wouldn’t be one. I couldn’t. It’d, it’d destroy me. Gimme a drink.
Tom Donophon: The bar is closed.
Peabody: Good people of Shinbone, I, I, I’m your conscience. I’m the still small voice that thunders in the night. I’m your watchdog that howls against the wolves. I’m, I’m your father confessor. I, I, I’m, what else am I?
Tom: The town drunk.
One other journalism tidbit from “Liberty Valance,” but it relates to film editing, not newspaper editing: When the Shinbone Star reporter is asking Stoddard for the interview, he grants the interview because Dutton Peabody once fired him. But apparently the scene where Peabody fired Stoddard was cut from the movie. We never see it.
Here are a couple more great journalism scenes from non-journalism movies:
And here Nuke shows that he was listening to the master:
I couldn’t find the scene I wanted from another Kevin Costner baseball movie, but when I saw the “Nebraska” scene at a small-town newspaper office (mentioned in the accompanying post), I thought of the visit Ray Kinsella (Costner) and Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) made to the newspaper office in Chisholm, Minn., as they research the past of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in “Field of Dreams.”
Some of the journalism in movies is more a detail than a scene: “Back to the Future” sets up the attack of the Libyan terrorists with a TV newscast playing in the background in the opening scene and uses a discarded newspaper to confirm for Marty McFly that he’s gone back in time to 1955.
I may add other scenes as I think of them. And I welcome your suggestions of other great (or funny or ridiculous) journalism scenes in non-journalism movies.
— Joey Kulkin (@incrediblekulk) January 1, 2014
Actually, I think of both of those as journalism movies (but haven’t seen either in years).
@stevebuttry Fletch, sure, but IHON is not a "newspaper movie." It’s a ’34 rom-com thru and thru, emphasis on comedy.
— Joey Kulkin (@incrediblekulk) January 1, 2014