|Lee Tracy, The Front Page, 1928|
First there's David Hare and Howard Brenton's satire of Murdoch himself, Pravda. (Note the ironic, Cold War era title.) Written back in 1985 and premiered at the National (with a legendary star turn by Anthony Hopkins I would kill to go back in time to see), the play tells how South African media magnate "Lambert Le Roux" intimidates politicians and spins the news with Orwellian manipulations of language.
Joe Penhall's more recent Dumb Show (premiered at the Royal Court in 2004) gets more into the tabloid tactics we're reading about now, as two Machiavellian reporters perform a sting operation to ensnare a gullible, pathetic, old TV comic into a scandal.
And here in the US we have our own classic, Hecht and MacArthur's The Front Page from 1928. Known best today in its 1940 film remake, His Girl Friday, the original play is actually rarely seen on stage. (As brilliant a screwball comedy as it is, Friday is actually a rather cleaned-up version of the play.) One reason may be its sometimes shocking crudeness and cynicism. Set in the press room of the Chicago Criminal Courts on the eve of a politically motivated hanging, the stage is populated by ruthless reporters who would make today's "hackers" look like Peabody winners. One of my favorite scenes--and probably one of the first to be cut in production today--is when one of the guys is on the phone getting breaking news of what at first strikes him (and his overhearing colleagues) as a delicious domestic violence story--until you see a sudden disappointment on his face. "Oh. Niggers," he says before hanging up, and the others on stage lose interest as well. After all, they do write for family newspapers. (It's one of those great moments that dares a director to see how repulsive you can make your cast to the audience.)
Veteran Chicago reporter Jim Warren has a nice tribute to Front Page (and Pravda) in his Chicago News Coop column today. Meanwhile... any other journo-dramas you can think of?