During a little holiday free-time, I engaged in one of my favorite pastimes – watching very old moves. In this instance, it was “The Famous Ferguson Case,” starring Joan Blondell and Grant Mitchell – a 1932 gem.
The story is in the small American town of Cornwall, in which a local tycoon is murdered. The crime attracts the presence of a bunch of New York reporters from such fictional publications as the New York Globe and the New York Bulletin. It is more of a journalism story than a mystery movie.
It juxtaposes the honorable and ethical reporters of Cornwall against the arrogant, corrupt reprobates from the Big Apple. Whether the 88-year-old feature film is ironic, prescient or reflects an on-going reality I cannot say – but there was much that could be applied to the Fourth Estate today.
The movie opens with a scrolling script that serves as a preface to the story. It read:
“Events occur which are so sensational that they are reported by SOME newspapers (their emphasis) long after there is any ‘fresh information,’ and when nothing at all has recently taken place.”
It got me thinking. How many times have we heard that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not yet delivered the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate? That will not happen until after the Congress returns from its Christmas recess – but we will hear that nothing-new story every day between now and then.
The movie scroll went on to say:
“Legitimate newspapers recognize that fact. They report real developments and stop there.
Today’s press does not “stop there.” In fact, they mostly speculate, hypothesize. analyze and opine ad nauseum – claiming their opinions as fact.
The scroll continued:
“But others, pandering to the lowest tastes of the public prolong such cases to the last degree. When news fails, they try to make up news. As long as a shred of the carcass remains, they feast upon it.
That reminded me of the two years that the east coast media mavens reported on President Trump’s crime of collusion with Russia only to have Special Counsel Robert Mueller totally debunk those claims – and they are still trying to “feast upon” the carcass of that dead horse. The modern media is pandering to the “lowest tastes” of the rabid and hateful anti-Trump base.
That was not the end of the scroll.
“Naturally, such journalistic scavenger work attracts only the lowest type of newspaperman – tipsters, stool pigeons, the base and the irresponsible.”
Now … how can one disagree with that?
What was particularly interesting in the movie, was how the corrupt New York media characters went about their trade. They employed many of the corrupt devices we see today. They threatened to destroy the lives of people who would not cooperate – and did in a couple of cases. They produced narratives that were of their own invention. They used their media power to influence the actions of public officials – literally creating the story out of whole cloth. They had the story entirely wrong but pursued it anyway.
The New York gaggle of reporters mocked the innocence and integrity of the small-town reporters – as well as the citizens and their small-town lifestyle. If this movie were made today, they would have used the term “deplorables.” The arrogance and contemptuous attitude of the big city reporters were palpable.
One of the good reporters chastised the New York crew by saying, “they lie and steal – and would crucify their grandmother to get a story.” This was attested to by one of the New Yorkers who said that if you cannot get a story any other way, “you buy it, steal it or make it up.”
I found one of the closing lines to be quite powerful. One of the good guys addressed the New York contingent by saying, “You came close to wrecking the profession that gave you your livelihood.” Looking at the low level of trust the American public has in the news media today – as reflected in those polls we do not hear much about – it seems that statement is as applicable today as it was in 1932.
If the movie were to be made today, the only difference may be that Hollywood would make heroes of the New York newsies and characterize the folks in Cornwall as a bunch of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.
So, there ‘tis.