Real Newsman, or Role-Playing?
By coincidence, on the day The New York Times carried a big article pointing to newspeople, including me, who have played roles in movies, I was in Hollywood, doing it again. I had previously played a TV news anchorman, using my own name, in the thriller, "The Net," starring Sandra Bullock whom, alas, I did not meet. This time I was playing the same role in a new thriller, "The Game," starring Michael Douglas, whom I also did not meet.
The paper's point: If a recognizable newsperson shows up in a feature film, how is the public to separate fact from fiction? The article quotes those who deplore the practice, including NBC's Tom Brokaw, who says, "It's hard enough for television journalists to convince people that we do our own reporting and write our own material." Not being in Brokaw's anchor-desk position, I haven't had that problem. But it's fair to raise the question whether guardians of reality should dabble in unreality.
My first venture in role-playing was in the 1960s, not in the movies but on CBS. Walter Cronkite was hosting a weekly series called, "You Are There," recounting historic episodes with the anachronistic device of having CBS correspondents present to explain what was happening. I was asked to play a Berlin correspondent in 1914, covering a press conference of the German foreign minister on the eve of America's entry into World War I. I could have declined to do it, but ham that I am, I thought it would be fun.
In 1976, Robert Redford asked me to play myself in the Watergate film, "All the President's Men." I would repeat verbatim an interview I had done with a Nixon campaign aide, Hugh Sloan, who was now being played by an actor. CBS, which had sponsored my acting debut a decade earlier, objected to my interacting with an actor. So that fell through.
Then last year came "The Net," in which I could be briefly seen several times on TV sets reporting things that advanced the plot. A Boston Globe reporter asked whether I wasn't blurring the line between fact and fiction, something I had many times spoken out against. I said I could not justify it, but the idea amused me.
Newsweek has told Joe Klein, formerly "Anonymous," to sort out "the complex issues of how his fiction and nonfiction roles can coexist." Maybe one way is by not lying about it. So now, in the name of full disclosure, let me reveal that I've had a call from a third studio. We don't have a deal yet. Maybe somebody should stop me before I act again.
*Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst at National Public Radio.