Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Best Journalism Movie Ever

TCM is showing Billy Wilder's "Ace in the Hole" tonight, my favorite among all journalism movies over "The Front Page," "Deadline USA," "All the President's Men," "The Paper," "Broadcast News" and "Absence of Malice," all fine films about fallible human beings reporting the news.

In an era when journalists are routinely reviled by political ideologists, it's easy to forget that, from A. J. Liebling on, they have always been their own severest critics in a calling that usually attracts young people interested in doing good in the world beyond doing well for themselves.

In 1951, I had just started working on newspapers and magazines when "Ace in the Hole" hit me hard with Kirk Douglas' portrayal of a down-and-almost-out reporter who sees a man trapped in a mine as his ticket back to the big time and ends up killing him by exploiting and stretching out his rescue.

Journalists as seducers and betrayers of their sources is a theme that runs through modern culture, from Janet Malcolm's "The Journalist and the Murderer" through the recent movies about Truman Capote and the making of "In Cold Blood."

When it appeared in the what-me-worry postwar era, "Ace in the Hole" was a commercial failure and, when released for TV, was given the more palatable title of "The Big Carnival." But it was and is a mordant reminder that there can be people in life-and-death situations behind the collection of words and images we call news.

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