Films and Television Teach History from the Comfort of Home

Cary Grant played an editor more concerned with circulation numbers than truth in His Girl Friday. Wikimedia

2. Newspapers were depicted accurately in films

Films depicted newspapers accurately, presenting them as both dedicated servants of the public and pawns in the hands of political machines and unscrupulous publishers. Cary Grant portrayed the latter in His Girl Friday. As the managing editor of his newspaper he twists the truth, sensationalizes events, and manipulates his reporters, other newspapers, and the governor in the film, one of the genre known as screwball comedy. The film depicts how major city newspapers produced multiple editions each day, and directed the attention of the cities they served. It also depicts the fierce competition among daily newspapers for readership.

Call Northside 777 presented the true story of a Chicago newspaper’s quest to have a man wrongly convicted of killing a policeman acquitted by revealing the true killer. Another film based on real-life events, All the President’s Men, presented the Washington Post’s investigation of the Watergate break-in and the extent of the administration’s involvement. And in the classic Jimmy Stewart film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, newspapers in the hands of a corrupt political machine sway public opinion against the character of Jeff Smith by creating and publishing what in a later day became known as fake news.