Page One Movie Review: Disingenuous Doc Spins The NY Times

If it’s more often than not true that biopics tend to come off like puff pieces when the subject is still very much alive – or even worse, present on the set and calling the shots. Then when we’re talking a boatload of individuals being spotlighted, as in the case of Andrew Rossi’s Page One: Inside The New York Times – counting the entire staff and management there – let’s just say the documentary has entered seriously compromised full length feature infomercial spin territory.

The disingenuous documentary coasts along more on the integrity of The Gray Lady’s sustained 85 year history than how it may or may not measure up to the competitive flourishing of the truly mass rather than corporate controlled media and citizen journalism breaking out all over the Internet. As Page One engages in selling the paper with its own seemingly rejuvenating props.

Including brand new multi-million dollar midtown skyscraper headquarters despite collective hand wringing over declining revenue; a media desk intended to take on the challenge of the encroaching Internet age; and gruff, cantankerous old school recovering cokehead NYT reporter David Carr. As if on call during the course of this documentary to butt heads with celebrity bloggers, while displaying a more tabloid than NYT macho, borderline nasty ‘wanna step outside’ attitude.

So the impression we’re finally left with in Page One, is an attempt to portray online news as an amateurish, cheap imitation assault on professionalism, i.e. institutional as opposed to grassroots populist, mega-profit free zone news gathering. Rather than say, the filmmaker venturing into more objective territory, to perhaps consider why the Internet is gaining ground beyond the major complaint that online news is free.

Such as perhaps the lack of public trust in many case related to what gets reported as ‘objective news’ in the Times, and that is nowhere to be found as a concept up for consideration in this documentary. Nor is any acknowledgment or tendered rebuttal in the face of the longtime existence of the outlet and website FAIR – Fairness And Accuracy In Reporting, in large part in existence to expose untruths disseminated on a regular basis by the Times.

Additionally, those managed government leaks from notorious unnamed sources; intermittently uncovered CIA operatives infiltrating newspapers as reporters to plant stories, the very dubious ’embedded’ on location journalists; and unrelenting pressure from the paper’s corporate investors and advertisers. And no, an onscreen apology regarding the whole appalling Judith Miller affair – less gullible reporter than routine government dupe in aiding and abetting the Iraq Invasion – just won’t cut it.

And, the possibility that the Internet as a new kid on the block not so much expropriated mass attention away from the NYT, but rather materialized as a long anticipated possible alternative to fill a popular craving, and hardly an accident waiting to happen. And where the prevailing acceptable standard may not in fact be objectivity – an illusion if there ever was one – but a thirst for variety instead. And a challenge to the traditional suspect implied Times notion that there’s only one side to every story.

Or take for instance, that literal elephant in the room – the sumptuous new skyscraper headquarters the paper has just moved into, and that cost quite a bundle. Even as management graciously bids the many laid off longtime staff farewell in this film, workers they claim they can no longer afford to employ. And by the way, a rental policy at their new McTower that forbids certain types of tenants, such as ’employment agencies, job training centers, and social-services offices.’

And what ultimately ails this documentary is similarly and ironically, what plagues the New York Times as well – slanted content. Or as the late esteemed, hard hitting investigative journalist John Hess once observed at FAIR in 2003 about the paper where he had worked:

‘…I’ve read the Times over 70 years-worked there for 24-and never saw a foreign intervention that the Times did not support, never saw a fare increase or a rent increase or a utility rate increase that it did not endorse, never saw it take the side of labor in a strike or lockout, or advocate a raise for underpaid workers. And don’t let me get started on universal health care and Social Security…’

Fidel Castro, when criticized for a lack of capitalist viewpoints in Cuba’s newspapers, once said, when I see communists writing for the NY Times, we’ll have their ideology in our press. Well something unpredictable and even better has happened here. An enormous variety of opinions way beyond the paternalistic scope of the NY Times for readers to enjoy and make up their own minds, and spanning left, right and center. It’s called the Internet.

Magnolia Pictures


1 star

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.