The Truth Can Be Adjusted: Broadcast News and Violating Realism
by Bobby Sevenich
Broadcast News is a 1986 romantic comedy that dramatizes the temporal chaos of live television broadcasting. In the film, a novice anchor (Tom) decides to head a stirring human-interest piece on date rape to uphold his sensitive on-camera persona.  During the taped report, Tom visibly wipes a tear from his cheek as he listens to a victim of sexual assault recall her experiences. Once the special is aired, the network producers – and domestic target audiences – laud him for his empathy and journalistic integrity. Near the end of the film, raw footage of the interview discloses that his tearful moment was caught on camera after the interview was complete and consequently re-edited into the interview to deceptively intensify the dramatic effect. Tom interrupts the point of view shot of the subject and inserts a deceitful image shot of out of sequence. The crux of the issue is that Tom’s manipulation of the structure and challenges the authenticity of TV’s communication.
Feuer questions the essence of television and suggests that the “live” quality of television grants spectators the opportunity to be present with the TV occurrences and, in a sense, witness a kind of telecommunicated realism. They can experience the exterior world beyond that of the living room. TV’s continuous presentation of material, such as news broadcasting, gives the spectator a “seamless scan of the world and is classified as “flow.” Williams argues that television’s dissemination of world news, although driven by economic demands, provides a public service. Yet with the semblance of realism, there is a latent natural ruse of television – as Bazin also supports in his claims about cinema giving the impression of truth. Stam argues that perhaps the editing of a TV program is one way the liveness is challenged; does this also constitute a departure from realism? Editing does rework the continuity of a given sequence and can mislead the viewer, especially when the broadcast is presented as factual. “Much of the real content of news has been altered by the facts of visual presentation”(Williams, 40). In the case of Broadcast News, the insertion of Tom crying in the interview or the reordering of true intervals might connote one truth – that the victim’s testimony is sad – but at the expense of a lie – that Tom cried during their conversation.
Lynn Spiegel attests that “television – at its most ideal – promised to bring audiences not merely an illusion of realism […] but a sense of ‘being there,’ a kind of hyper-realism.” Do filmic techniques employed during the broadcasting processes – like editing – give way to a kind of realism by way of manipulation (in the same way an actor can play a character to communicate human truths). Is truth in any way jeopardized during the process?
 Broadcast News. Dir. James L. Brooks. 20th Century Fox: 1987.
 Lynn Spigel. “Installing the Television Set: Popular Discourses on Television and Domestic Spaces, 1948 – 1955.” 1999. Private Screenings: Television and the Female Consumer. Edited by Lynn Spigel and Denise Mann. University of Minnesota, 1992. 14.