Can Michael Keaton Solve Media's Image Problem? ; A New TV Movie, 'Live in Baghdad,' Offers Insights into Journalism, an Often-Maligned Profession in Film

By Kim Campbell writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 6, 2002 | Go to article overview

Can Michael Keaton Solve Media's Image Problem? ; A New TV Movie, 'Live in Baghdad,' Offers Insights into Journalism, an Often-Maligned Profession in Film


Kim Campbell writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Name a famous actor and they've likely played a journalist. Jimmy Stewart? You bet. Denzel Washington? Think "The Pelican Brief." Mary Tyler Moore? Of course.

Saturday night, Michael Keaton dusts off his reporting skills for his second stint as a journalist in HBO's "Live from Baghdad," in which he plays a CNN producer working in Iraq in the days leading up to the Gulf War.

The fourth estate can use Batman's help, as journalists are in need of good PR. In a recent survey on dilbert.com - the website for the Dilbert cartoon - news reporters were named the weaseliest profession, beating even tobacco executives for the top spot.

Charismatic actors and noble quests for truth - this is, after all, the profession that brought you "All the President's Men" - are apparently not enough to redeem the media's reputation.

Pop culture is partly to blame, as images of the journalist are everywhere these days, offering examples of both the mistrust and the curiosity the public has for the profession. More often it's the quick hits that leave an impression on people, observers suggest. They say that increasingly people are seeing packs of journalists hounding people in made-for-TV movies (and covering real-life sensational trials) than they are of the reporters whose work achieves a positive end, as in movies such as Clint Eastwood's "True Crime."

"Anecdotally, there's no question in my mind ... that the images of the journalist in film, television, and fiction influence the public," says Joe Saltzman, director of The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture, a project at the University of Southern California.

But the range of portrayals goes beyond a person in a trenchcoat shoving a tape recorder in someone's face. Upcoming films include "The Life of David Gale," with Kate Winslet investigating a death- row case, and Cate Blanchett in "Victoria Guerin," about the slain Irish reporter who covered the mafia.

In recent years, films and TV programs featuring journalists have been almost as abundant as they were in the movies of the 1930s and 40s - the genre's golden era that prompted classics like the screwball "His Girl Friday. …

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