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.
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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