COMS 460-01 JPop Notes

Nothing But the Truth

At Monday's class (11/27) I showed the "making of" feature from the DVD of the Kate Beckinsale film "Nothing But the Truth," intending to get you thinking about some of the journalism issues raised in this film -- and by other films you might be watching.

Like many journalism films, the pressures on the reporter and editors are many: "get the story," "serve the public," "uncover government wrong-doing," "protect the country," and maybe "sell newspapers" and "win a Pulitzer." The movie has many of the scenes we're used to seeing: Dramatic news events, "page-one meetings" with editors and reporters discussing stories, confrontations between reporters and news sources, official and otherwise.

But this reporter-goes-to-jail film touches on major media law issues more than most fiction films do -- the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press and the way the legal system weighs that guarantee against other issues (in this case, government secrecy and security on one side versus a journalist's expose government wrong-doing, and her need to protect confidential sources).

The film also explores the journalist's personal ethics, values and consequences: Keeping her word because she made a promise to a source becomes all-important; it puts her marriage as well as her personal freedom and safety at risk.

Trailer for "Nothing But the Truth" at YouTube.

The links below examples of the kinds of things your research on any film should uncover -- look at historical issues and a variety of reviews, not just one or two sources; reading more than a minimum of sources will help you form your own ideas about journalism "portrayals" and their relationship to reality. For a newer film you can find this variety with a Google search; for older films, you can do the same with Proquest Historical Newspapers at the RU library.

Another "media law" question: I notice that a YouTube user has had the full film available online for the past year, by uploading it in seven sections and adding a note about, "'fair use' for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research." Applying this to a full-length film, not just selected clips, sounds to me like a very broad definition of "fair use." But the copyright owner apparently hasn't forced YouTube to take down the seven clips. If you do choose to watch the film there, I should warn you that the discussion comments may include "spoilers" that seriously damage the suspense and drama of the film.

Historical comparison: The Zenger Case

If you have taken the media law course or remember the first chapter of your News Writing textbook, America's first significant "journalist goes to jail to protect sources" case happened almost 300 years ago. To my knowledge, the story has never been a feature film, but it was a very early (1953) made-for-TV movie, "The Trial of John Peter Zenger."

The Zenger case also was adapted for radio's DuPont Cavalcade, as Remembering Anna Zenger, 'Mother of Freedom.' There were two broadcasts, with title, script and cast changes. The intermediate source for the drama was a novel telling the Zenger story from the perspective of the heroic wife who kept the newspaper going while her husband was in jail -- and, in the process, making her the true heroine of the novel.

Reminder: I've collected YouTube links to dozens of other journalism films -- full-length older films and trailers or clips from newer films. See: Bob's YouTube Newspaper Movies Pages.

For contact info, see: Dr. Stepno's Radford University home page.