We don’t mind that George Clooney was nominated for a few Oscars. He deserves one. He’s a movie star in the old mold, he’s made some entertaining pictures, used his hard-won fame wisely, and was smart enough to team up with Steven Soderbergh, giving the director charisma by proxy and getting himself big help with the storyboards and in the editing room when it comes to directing.
But there’s big problems with his picture, Good Night, and Good Luck, that go beyond the annoying comma. George Clooney, debonair as he is, ain’t the person to lecture us about journalism with a movie that’s basically a lie.
We’ll skip the destructive nature of the glorification of the supposed Golden Era of CBS News and the canonization of Edward R. Murrow. Simply put, Murrow did not put CBS at risk by going after red-baiting lunatic Senator Joseph McCarthy. Nor did he bring McCarthy down. By the time CBS went after the story, it was safe to go into the water. President Truman had already described McCarthy as "the best asset the Kremlin has." Fellow senators had targeted him, and the U.S. Army was already making legal preparations for a showdown before another Senate committee. These hearings, which began on April 22, 1954, ruined McCarthy.
Clooney twisted well-known facts, distorted history, added drama and stacked the deck to make his points.
And he wasn’t fair. Clooney and Co. have been hailed for using actual documentary footage of villain Joe McCarthy instead of hiring an actor. But McCarthy was from an era in which not even public figures were ready for their soundbites. No hairspray, makeup, crafted dialogue or second takes, as Clooney’s Murrow was given. Clooney would have been brave if he evened the score a bit by having McCarthy portrayed by a great actor like John C. Reilly, Tommy Lee Jones or Joaquin Phoenix (remember Ike Turner in What’s Love Got To Do with It).
But Clooney’s not a journalist. He’s not even all that smart. He’s a very handsome Hollywood actor who can attract great collaborators.
Clooney’s a champion of the First Amendment as long as he gets dispensation. You have to remember, he first made journalism history when it was revealed that he cut a deal with Paramount Pictures, promising cooperation with Entertainment Tonight if Paramount kept him off Hard Copy. Paramount actually put the deal in writing, and when someone at Hard Copy accidentally put Clooney in a story, the star went public with the embarrassing deal and began a boycott of ET.
Hollywood fun fact: Clooney’s partner Soderbergh is married to former Hard Copy reporter Jules Asner.
Ironically, Clooney set himself up as the great enemy of tabloid television. But his hero, Edward R. Murrow, invented tabloid television with his Person to Person. His show, featuring interviews with Hollywood stars in their homes, was an early ass-kissing experiment in the type of programming that became Entertainment Tonight.
But it’s Hollywood.
Clooney will provide the sole bit of old school Hollywood glamour at the Oscars. He’ll literally be the “straight man” in the crowd. So he’ll win something. Possibly he’ll get the Affleck-Damon screenwriting award. Maybe even the Gibson-Costner directing statue.
Tabloid Baby’s early picks: Best Picture: Brokeback Mountain; Best Director: Ang Lee; Best Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman; Best actress: Reese Witherspoon; Supporting Actor: Paul Giamatti; Supporting Actress: Michelle Williams; Adapted Screenplay: Brokeback; Original Screenplay: Clooney and his partner the writer.