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HORIST: Old movies prove some things never change

HORIST: Old movies prove some things never change

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.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.


  1. Phil in TX

    This gives much credence to the line “What goes around, comes around.” Thanks for taking the time to post this story, Larry. It would seem that today’s reporters have learned much from history, the bad side of history, that it.

    Phil in TX

  2. Kathleen DeMaggio

    Can you send that to every newspaper in the country? They definitely need to hear this. So true. News is not news anymore, just opinion or speculation about the outcome. Thank you for your article.

  3. Phil in TX

    My apologies, Joe. I failed to notice that you posted this story, not Larry. My face is red.

    Phil in TX

    • Larry Horist

      That was in error. It is my story.

  4. Jan

    It’s why my friend and I refer to the 6:30 TV broadcasts as “The Sorry News.”

  5. Jan

    Thank you for a true story! It’s why my friend and I refer to the 6:30 TV broadcasts as “The Sorry News.”

  6. Kurt Walker

    Are you sure that was 1932?? Seems awfully familiar.

    • Larry Horist

      Yep! The movie was 1932.

  7. Joe S Bruder

    First, you read an awful lot into an old movie… I remember a bunch of old movies whose warnings about technology involved radiation creating giant ants or monsters like Godzilla. And we still get those kind of movies today too.

    Secondly, the situation with the press that you describe sounds an awful lot like FOX news these days. How long have they (and Punching Bag Post, for that matter) been calling on yet more investigations of Benghazi and Clinton’s emails, when both have been debunked thoroughly? And you report that the Mueller Report debunked Trump’s Russian collusion and exonerated him, when it does nothing of the sort. Barr’s characterization of the report said it did, but the report itself did not. And whenever I hear the poisonous opinions of the 3 or 4 conservative pundits that make up the “analysis” segments of FOX, it’s pretty evident that they just pull numbers and fake facts out of their respective rear ends just to scare and incite their audience.

    And there’s a special place for Tucker Carlson in journalistic hell. He’s so far up Trump’s ass that he can get his quotes straight from the horse’s mouth. Have you ever in your life heard of a member of the press that discusses policy in private with a President and then adjusts his “newscasts” to disseminate the President’s talking points? How can we (or you!) let a President get away with co-opting the press, or let a member of the press be that cozy with the President?

    And (ignoring your last nonsensical paragraph about what Hollywood might do today), you close with the quote: “You came close to wrecking the profession that gave you your livelihood.” That is exactly what a majority of people say about FOX – unless they watch FOX news, then it’s “the only one that tells the truth”. Which is pretty scary considering Trump’s condemnation of almost all the major news networks as fake news. Are we to believe that they’re all wrong, and only FOX is right, despite the close relationship/feedback loop to the White House? Sounds more like Soviet-era propaganda to me. And considering how quickly the White House talking points get into your editorials, I suspect that you and old Joe spend the first couple of hours of the day with FOX news on your TV too.

    • Joe Gilbertson

      YOU say that about FOX, but FOX is growing while the liberal stations are shrinking. News (all news everywhere…) has always had a certain level of propaganda mixed in with the facts, but CNN distorts the facts, makes up new facts, makes up stories and then unapologetically drops the stories when they are proven false. They are TRYING to give a wrong impression of the news to their audience, they have an actual political agenda. Its embarrassing. Fox has not descended into the depths of propaganda that CNN and MSNBC have, they indeed will have at least one liberal on their discussion panels.