"Honey ... do you wanna see a movie about a phone hacking scandal or a defense of a disgraced journalist?"
Hard to imagine that conversation happening any time soon. Yet some major Hollywood players are banking on audiences clamoring to choose between those two subjects.
Robert Redford will star in a film based on the journalism memoir by ex-CBS news producer Mary Mapes. George Clooney, not to be outdone, will direct a movie inspired by the UK phone hacking scandal which brought down Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World.
Neither topic offers a populist hook. Mapes’ CBS News story on President George W. Bush’s tenure with the National Guard was discredited by scrappy bloggers. Constructing a film based on her defensive tome, particularly a decade after the fact, seems stale at best.
Clooney’s directorial project at least could resonate overseas where more and more ticket dollars are being spent these days. It’s still not hard to imagine the film tanking stateside.
How could both projects be greenlit with A-listers attached at a time when the only sure thing in Hollywood is a story with a cape attached?
Look more closely. The UK scandal hurts Rupert Murdoch, the man behind Fox News and other right-leaning ventures. Mapes’ original report, told by Dan Rather, sought to tarnish Bush in the weeks before the 2004 presidential election. Restoring her name would certainly paint the ex-president in an unflattering light while slamming several conservative blogs like Powerline which debunked her report.
It’s the ideology, stupid, to paraphrase a liberal political strategist. Consider the crush of anti-war movies made during Bush’s presidency (“Stop-Loss,” “In the Valley of Elah” to name just two”). No matter how hard one flopped, another was prepping in the pipeline.
And that’s a shame, since so many exciting projects struggle to get greenlit across the entertainment realm. This reporter has spoken to dozens of actors and directors through the years who shared how hard it was to get their visions on the big screen.
Yet, these two projects, with modest box office appeal at best, will be going into production soon.