Honorable journalism back in the spotlight

By Jessie Webster, Columnist

Forty years ago on Saturday, the granddaddy of journalism movies, otherwise known as “All the President’s Men” was released to the public.

The film was adapted directly from the writings of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, two investigative reporters from The Washington Post, whose tireless journalistic efforts are credited with exposing the Watergate scandal, which eventually lead to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

The 1976 film, which starred Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as Bernstein and Woodward was an immediate hit, becoming the fourth highest-grossing movie that year. Many people believe that the film inspired a generation of students to enter the field of journalism.

At its core, the appeal of “All the President’s Men” centers around the hard-working, no-nonsense doggedness of Bernstein and Woodward, which is a characteristic of some journalists that the public loves.

There’s also the undeniable David vs. Goliath aspect of the film which gives it a very relatable underdog narrative: two lowly journalists using nothing but tenacity and their own wits to take down the most important political office in the entire world.

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“All the President’s Men” has been joined recently by other successful journalism movies, such as “Frost/Nixon,” released in 2011, and “Spotlight,” which won best picture at this year’s Oscars, and tells the story about reporters at the Boston Globe and their investigation into widespread and systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by numerous Roman Catholic priests.

In his review of “Spotlight” for The New York Times, A.O. Scott writes that “the movie celebrates a specific professional accomplishment and beautifully captures the professional ethos of journalism. It is also a defense of professionalism in a culture that increasingly holds it in contempt.”

Scott’s point about the public’s increasingly scornful opinion of journalists accurately speaks to one of the most crucial differences between journalism today and journalism four decades ago, namely that the public no longer views journalists to be the impartial whistleblowers that they once were.

In fact, a 2015 Gallup poll found that only 40% of Americans say that they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust and confidence in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly. Amongst Americans aged 18 to 49, only 36% reported that they trust the mass media.

Such apathy, especially among young people, sets a dangerous precedent for a world that needs the presence of trustworthy investigative reporting now more than ever.

On Sunday, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, or ICIJ, published a massive leak of documents, which have been dubbed collectively as the Panama Papers.

According to ICIJ’s website, the leak, which is composed of over 11 million documents, exposed some of the world’s most powerful people as using offshore companies “to facilitate bribery, arms deals, tax evasion, financial fraud and drug trafficking.” 

The documents also identified by name close associates of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, the father of Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and relatives of President Xi Jinping of China as using offshore bank accounts and shell companies to conceal their wealth or avoid taxes.

Working to expose dishonest leaders and politicians to the public is just one example of the type of reporting that our society needs today.

If all journalists work to commit themselves to the relentless pursuit of the truth, the legacy of Bernstein and Woodward in All the President’s Men will live on for generations to come.

Jessie is a junior in Media.

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