The screenwriters of State of Play, says L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein, “have taken a story that’s really a cop movie and grafted it into the world of journalism.” He makes some good points, but he should have clarified if the same plot points are in the original six-hour British miniseries. I need to watch it again myself so I can answer this question.
“Russell Crowe actually interrogates one suspect — I mean source — in a motel room, with a backup crew of cops — I mean reporters — stashed in an adjoining motel room, secretly videotaping the encounter, which he then shows to another source/suspect in the story. This is, ahem, wrong on a thousand different ethical levels, not to mention, in an era of vastly diminished newspaper resources, who could afford to pay for all the video gear, much less two motel rooms?” Hilarious!
“Crowe has a basic conflict of interest that would disqualify any reporter from covering this story; he’s an old friend (and former college roommate) of the powerful congressman who’s at the heart of a murder mystery. Even worse, from a believability angle, Crowe’s top editor (nicely played as a tough-talking Fleet Street expatriate by Helen Mirren) knows all about their friendship, which in real journalistic life, would have disqualified Crowe from covering the story from the jump-off, especially since he has an even more complicated entanglement with the congressman’s wife.
“There [are] other farfetched moments, including a scene where Mirren refuses to print an explosive story, saying that the paper’s new owners are insisting that Crowe get at least one key source on the record. A reputable newspaper would indeed demand that at least one source be on the record before printing a big story, but that demand would come from the editors, not from the owners of the paper, who usually find out about a big story at the same time the readers do — after it’s printed.
“But for me, the biggest whopper of all happens after Crowe has pushed his deadline to the limit. He finally sits down and cranks out a complicated expose that could ruin a number of powerful Washington insiders in even less time than it took me to write this blog item. (Fair enough — that’s dramatic compression, since who wants to see the dreary details of all that typing.) But when Crowe is finished, he simply hits the SEND button, gets up and walks out of the newsroom, as if his job were done.
“It’s a heroic walk off into the sunset, but in terms of veracity, it leaves out all the real work that goes into a story after the first draft is finished. In other words, there’s no editing, no rewrites, no fact checking, no trims for space, no perusals by the paper’s lawyers, no nothing. It’s a wonderful movie moment, but like all too many movie moments, whether they involve lawyers, doctors, cops or grouchy newspaper reporters, it leaves out an awful lot of the rich detail that goes into accomplishing a task.”