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.’

Kate Mara plays Zoe Barns, a political reporter writing for the fictional Slugline.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
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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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