Your Guide to Washington’s Fake News Publications

‘Slugline,’ ‘The Washington Moon,’ and other news outlets have been created for shows like ‘House of Cards.’

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
Feb. 12, 2014, 6:06 a.m.

With the second sea­son of House of Cards start­ing this week, keep­ing track of all the fic­tion­al Wash­ing­ton news­pa­pers cre­ated for print and screen can be dif­fi­cult.

Hol­ly­wood, for the most part, has done a de­cent job of mak­ing up real­ist­ic news out­lets that mir­ror many of the cel­eb­rated or­gan­iz­a­tions here in D.C., with some not­able ex­cep­tions (read: Zoe Barnes) (I na­ively hope). The easi­est news­pa­per to base a fic­tion­al pub­lic­a­tion on is ob­vi­ously The Wash­ing­ton Post. But new shows have moved bey­ond the com­fort­able staple of Wash­ing­ton journ­al­ism in­to new and un­fa­mil­i­ar areas of loc­al and polit­ic­al re­port­ing. If journ­al­ism is chan­ging, fic­tion­al D.C. has to as well.

House of Cards, Net­flix

The Wash­ing­ton Her­ald and Slugline (The Wash­ing­ton Post and Politico/BuzzFeed)

While the show fo­cuses on the ram­bunc­tious and tu­mul­tu­ous Rep. Frank Un­der­wood, a plot line fol­lows young re­port­er Zoe Barnes, who works for two fic­tion­al D.C. pub­lic­a­tions.

She starts off as a metro re­port­er at The Wash­ing­ton Her­ald, the closest real-life re­semb­lance of which is prob­ably The Wash­ing­ton Post.

After break­ing a few big stor­ies with the help of her latest source and (SPOIL­ERS) lov­er Un­der­wood, she moves on to Slugline, a new pub­lic­a­tion that sounds like a mix of the fast-break­ing news style of Politico and the new-age of­fice antics of BuzzFeed. Al­though the in­nov­a­tion of writ­ing art­icles on their phones is not quite an in­nov­a­tion. Any re­port­er on the Hill can at­test.

“Six months from now, Slugline will be what Politico was a year and a half ago,” Barnes tells Un­der­wood. “Every­one at Politico reads it be­cause Slugline’s break­ing stor­ies be­fore they are.”

She con­tin­ues, “Every­one’s a free agent; they write whatever they want, wherever they are. Most people write from their phones.”

The Wash­ing­ton Her­ald was ac­tu­ally a real news­pa­per in D.C. un­til 1931. After a stint as The Wash­ing­ton Times-Her­ald, it even­tu­ally merged in­to The Post in 1954. The pa­per also ap­peared in the John Grisham thrill­er The Pel­ic­an Brief.

Scan­dal, ABC

The D.C. Sun (Wash­ing­ton City Pa­per/The Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner)

Quinn Per­kins’s love in­terest, Gideon Wal­lace, is a re­port­er for a loc­al tabloid news­pa­per, The D.C. Sun, and traces the mys­ter­i­ous death of a former White House staffer.

“I might just be a metro re­port­er for a dy­ing news­pa­per, but you’re Olivia Pope,” Wal­lace says to the star of the show, a former White House aide and cur­rent polit­ic­al clean-up guru, in the first sea­son. “So, no. No, I didn’t have a story but now… now I do.”

There’s noth­ing usu­al about Wal­lace’s re­port­ing tac­tics, but his (SPOIL­ERS) death at the hands of a close aide to the vice pres­id­ent has a “Come on, now,” nature to it. If le­gend Bob Wood­ward felt “threatened” by a seem­ingly tame White House email, death-by-scis­sors seems like a stretch.

The D.C. Sun could be loc­al news out­let Wash­ing­ton City Pa­per (which seems to be thriv­ing) or the now-de­funct loc­al sec­tion of The Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner.

Thank You for Smoking, Chris­toph­er Buckley, 1994

The Wash­ing­ton Moon and The Wash­ing­ton Sun (The Wash­ing­ton Times and The Wash­ing­ton Post)

Polit­ic­al sat­ir­ist Chris­toph­er Buckley of­ten cap­tures the ab­surdity of Wash­ing­ton. In his book Thank You for Smoking, which was turned in­to a suc­cess­ful movie, two fic­tion­al news­pa­pers get the spot­light.

“The con­ser­vat­ive Wash­ing­ton Moon” was prob­ably a ref­er­ence to The Wash­ing­ton Times, a news­pa­per that was star­ted in 1982 by Uni­fic­a­tion Church founder Sun My­ung Moon and tends to be con­ser­vat­ive.

Later in the book, Buckley writes, “It was a short item, in the ‘Re­li­able Source’ sec­tion of the late edi­tion of the Sun“¦” In real D.C., The Wash­ing­ton Post has a sec­tion called “The Re­li­able Source.” The Wash­ing­ton Sun is ac­tu­ally a real news­pa­per, but as a loc­al Afric­an-Amer­ic­an weekly, it’s much dif­fer­ent.

Buckley shows the nature of polit­ic­al journ­al­ism by fur­ther de­scrib­ing what hap­pens when you call The Sun’s switch­board: “You have reached the Wash­ing­ton Sun’s om­buds­man desk. If you feel you have been in­ac­cur­ately quoted, press 1. If you spoke to a re­port­er off the re­cord but were iden­ti­fied in the art­icle, press 2. If you spoke on deep back­ground but were iden­ti­fied, press 3. If you were quoted ac­cur­ately but feel that the re­port­er missed the lar­ger point, press 4. If you a con­fid­en­tial White House source and are call­ing to alert your re­port­er that the pres­id­ent is furi­ous over leaks and has ordered a re­view of all out­go­ing calls in White House phone logs, press 5. To speak to an ed­it­or, press 6.”

Gore Vid­al’s Nar­rat­ives of Em­pire series, 1967-2000

The Wash­ing­ton Tribune (The Wash­ing­ton Post)

In his series of books that at­tempt to paint a his­tor­ic­al pic­ture of the United States through fic­tion­al and real char­ac­ters, Gore Vid­al tries to tackle the age of Wil­li­am Ran­dolph Hearst and the journ­al­ism world. One of the main char­ac­ters, Car­oline, moves to Wash­ing­ton and buys the dy­ing Wash­ing­ton Tribune. She ends up re­vital­iz­ing the news­pa­per us­ing many of the sen­sa­tion­al­ist tac­tics made fam­ous by Hearst.

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