November 13, 2007

Hollywood: Fact or Fiction

Hollywood sees journalists as saviors or scoundrels — and sometimes both.

Two new films — "Lions for Lambs," currently in theaters and featuring Meryl Streep as a network news journalist covering the war in Afghanistan, and "Nothing but the Truth," currently in production and reportedly involving a newspaper reporter who discloses the name of a CIA agent and is jailed for refusing to reveal her source — are the latest examples. In "Lions for Lambs," journalists are described as "windsocks [who] blow with the prevailing breeze."

Nowhere was this clash between good journalists and bad journalists more evident than in "Citizen Kane," one of the most celebrated movies ever made.

Orson Welles directed and starred in the Academy Award–winning film about newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane. Kane began his career as a crusader for truth, a champion of the masses. He turned into a ruthless mogul who used his wealth to rule others.

Kane scoured the world buying up treasures, "enough for 10 museums." In the film, many of his artifacts remained crated at his palatial estate, Xanadu, including a 5-foot-tall statue of the snake-haired Medusa, which now has the distinction of being one of the more unusual items in the Newseum collection.

In Greek mythology, Medusa was a Gorgon — a monster — who turned anyone who looked at her into stone. That was an apt description of Kane, whose angry wife asked why he spent "a hundred thousand dollars for a statue you’re going to keep crated up and never look at."

"Citizen Kane" was loosely based on the life of American newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. Like Kane, he collected treasures for his San Simeon, Calif., castle.

Does art imitate life? Hearst thought so. He fought the release of "Citizen Kane," offering to pay the studio to destroy the negative and all prints. RKO refused. The movie premiered in May 1941 to critical acclaim. Undaunted, Hearst banned any mention of the film in his newspapers.

William Randolph Hearst’s real-life story is featured in the News Corporation News History Gallery. Visitors to the gallery also will see a Newseum-produced video, "Hollywood: Fact or Fiction," that looks at how journalists are portrayed by Hollywood in popular motion pictures.

Above: Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane in "Citizen Kane." Right: This 5-foot-tall crated statue of Medusa was featured in the film. (Photo and Medusa statue: Newseum collection)

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