After government, the biggest industry in DC is media. Many major outlets have DC bureaus, which is to say nothing of the big outlets with office space or headquarters in the city. The Atlantic, NPR, National Geographic, Vox, Slate, The Huffington Post, and Foreign Policy are all based here (to name a few). All the major cable news network have studio space in DC. If you go a party full of the “urban elite,” there is a good chance you’ll meet some jerk talking about “their latest piece.” There a decent chance that jerk is me.
Like Shattered Glass, James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News gets that DC is full of ambitious media types. It stars Holly Hunter as Jane, a brilliant news producer whose sheer talent alienates many of her colleagues. The film is a love triangle of sorts, with Albert Brooks and William Hurt as anchors competing for Jane’s attention, but what makes the film a classic is how Brooks views these personal entanglements through the business of running a good news show.
Brooks films Broadcast News mostly in interiors, so the film only represents DC in terms of plot and character. Jane is a classic, driven Type-A professional. There is a famous line where a says man to her, “It must be nice to always believe you know better, to always think you’re the smartest person in the room,” and she quips, “It’s awful.” Lots of folks in the city think they know better, that they’re the smartest, and even if these folks are not always right, the line distills what we aspire to: being the rare person for whom that feeling is true.
Parts of Brooks’ film have not aged well. The climax centers on whether Hurt’s character fakes crying on camera, and this ethical lapse seems quaint given how the media has warped into something cynical, cruel, and brazenly manipulative. But unlike The West Wing – a show that inspired many millennials to move DC, though they would never admit it – there is a stubborn nobility to Broadcast News that will remain authentic.