In Howard Hawks’ 1940 film “His Girl Friday,” an unscrupulous, unethical newspaper editor, Walter Burns (Cary Grant), will do anything to get things to happen his way. In the film he uses his “anything goes” ethics to win back the love of his best reporter and former wife Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) who is, as the film begins, about to marry another man the next day.
Hawks took the Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s classic journalism drama, “The Front Page,” and changed the basic plot into a screwball comedy with some sensationalism and contemporary issues dialogue thrown as elements of substantiating authenticity.
As America drew closer and closer to involvement in the war in Europe, women such as Margaret Bourke-White and Martha Gellhorn struggled to establish a woman’s right to be employed as a “newsman.” Hawks focused on the romance angle of his version of the story and let incidental issues such as race and pay get only quick lines to outline the (perfunctory) attempt to establish some sympathy for mitigating circumstances in the murder of a policeman. Hildy’s marriage is scheduled on the same day as the murderer’s execution.
The film, which the Pacific Film Archive had scheduled to be the final installment of a Howard Hawks retrospective, was shown on Tuesday, February 28, 2012, and brought up the question: How relevant could a 72 year old film about a declining industry be?
Since the film was shown at the same time that newspaper/broadcasting mogul Rupert Murdoch was being portrayed as an unscrupulous, unethical newspaper publisher who is being investigated for using “anything goes” ethics to win readers and increase his profit margin, it turned out that the movie was not a night off, but required the World’s Laziest Journalist to put on his columnist hat and ask this question: What if a similar newspaper man were trying to manipulate American voters and change the Republicans’ choice for their Presidential nominee rather than win back the love of a top reporter?
Isn’t there a folk axiom that proclaims that “All is fair in love, war, and journalism!”?
Supporters of Murdoch will make the assertion that citizen journalists will be the Maginot Line insuring that shoddy journalism doesn’t become the norm in theUSA. However the Myth of Sisyphus task for bloggers may be showing some signs of stress fatigue. In the current issue of the East Bay Express, Rachel Swan (on page 10 of the hard copy edition) presents a story substantiating the idea that unpaid bloggers may be as effective as the Maginot Line was. The subhead for her story reads: “The blogs that were ‘making democracy work’ last year have largely fizzled out.”
When the Republicans unanimously started to use morality as the basis for assessing the Blunt bill (to permit employers the right to withhold health benefits for employees on the grounds of religious freedom), earlier this week, did any voice in the mainstream media point out that such scrupulous attention to morality seemed conspicuously absent when liberals pointed out the large number of collateral damage deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Does any unique pundit ask where is the morality when bankers, who have used faulty if not felonious paperwork for foreclosures, continue to toss American families out of their homes, are asked to hold off until the paperwork can be improved; they continue to foreclose at top speed? Is that flagrant disregard for the sanctity of a family’s home in preference to profits a true example of the American politicians’ concept of family values?
Can paid punditry’s continued effort to completely ignore the incongruity of the high moral tone for the birth control aspect of health care and at the same time the callus disregard for the morality of unrelenting foreclosure efforts mean that the professional writers are either really stupid or are they just unquestioningly subservient to the one percent media owners?
Does the fact that only a lose cannon, online columnist has the freedom to ask such impertinent questions, prove conclusively that the free press is extinct? If that is the case, will Americans wait until listening to foreign broadcasts and reading dissenting opinions are capital offenses before they realize that the free press is as extinct as theCaliforniagolden bear? Or will they cheerfully assert that the pathetic uniformity of conservative punditry is all they want or need to become well informed voters?
How did that work out in Germany in the Thirties? (Do a Google search for “VE 301”)
Is there some irony to be found in the fact that when Democrats are in the White House, the Conservatives are unanimous in their belief that criticism of the President must be unrelenting, but when George W. Bush was President, the conservatives assessed any criticism of Dubya as being unpatriotic?
When FDR was in the White House did conservatives denigrate the Presidents constantly? Wasn’t the very wide spectrum of voices in the political arena (when “His Girl Friday” was released) a vast assortment of differing points of view? How diverse was the political debate inGermanyat that very same time? Which style of diversity are the Republicans striving to duplicate?
In “His Girl Friday,” Hildy Johnson thought that Walter Burns’ extortion and bribery made him all the more lovable and by the film’s end, she was back in love with Burns.
When Rupert Murdoch’s choice for the Republican candidate in 2012 becomes known, the teabaggers may fall in love with Murdoch again, but the liberals might get a jolting dose of <I>déjà vu</I> that gives them a “Rick Santorum level of revulsion” reaction.
Have you noticed that the mainstream media seems to be in perfect harmony regarding the idea that Mitt Romney shouldn’t be handed the Republican Presidential nomination? (The Stepford Pundits?) Have all the paid political pundits (both liberal and conservative) started to sing the same song? Where is the much vaunted “unique voice” that will point out the fact that all the calls for withholding the nomination seem to be written by the same author with little or no unique wording or phraseology inserted?
The Republicans started out with about a dozen potential candidates and now that Mitt is the frontrunner, he is being criticized for not getting a majority of the Republican primary votes. Are the mainstream media hacks too dumb to see the correlation to the arguments supporting the “instant runoff” concept or are they being forbidden to wander into that line of reasoning?
On Thursday, March 01, 2012, Andrew Breitbart died and Uncle Rushbo was effusive in his praise for the conservative spokesman. Limbaugh seemed on the verge of suggesting that Britebart be put on a catafalque and lay in state for a day or so in the rotunda of the Capital building in Washington D. C. Was Andrew Breitbart more like Walter Burns and Rupert Murdoch or was he the modern day equivalent of Edward R. Murrow? Which type of news reporter doesAmericawant/deserve?
Is the tendency to make sure that conservative pundits are liberally remunerated for their work but that altruism is deemed sufficient reward for leftist, a stealth way to make sure that the pundits eventually suffer burnout? Isn’t it conservatives who glibly spout the sentiment that “Virtue is its own punishment”?
[In 1940, when “His Girl Friday” was playing in movie theaters across theUSA, the designs had been drawn and production of the weapons of war was beginning. Pearl Harbor hadn’t happened yet, butAmericawas gearing up for war. The USS Iowa had already been designed.
The fact that photos of the Iowa visiting Richmond CA while slowly traveling to its new permanent home in the Los Angeles area will be used to illustrate this column rather than photos from various Occupy protest marches held on Thursday March 1, 2012 also illustrates how fatigue can inject a WTF factor into the contemporary online realm of column writing.]
Back when the number of words used determined the cost of sending a telegram, often meant that some words were dropped as a means for economizing. A writer who wanted to know Cary Grant’s age for a story he was writing sent a telegram: “How old Cary Grant?” Grant’s answer to that question provided the closing quote for this column. He replied: “Old Cary Grant fine. How you?”
Now the disk jockey will take us back in time by playing “Long ago and far away,” “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition,” and “The band played on.” We have to go buy tickets to see “Fear and Loathing inLas Vegas,” again, at the Flashback film series. Have a “stop the press!” type week.