'House of Cards' Stars Explore the Future (and Death) of Journalism
It is fitting that, in a project that is touted as the show that could reshape the digital future of television, House of Cards is deeply concerned with the rapid reconstruction of journalism in the internet era.
The new Netflix political drama stars Kevin Spacey as a ruthless congressman bent on revenge against the new president, and to achieve it, he strikes a deal with a young reporter who agrees to publish his planted stories and "anonymous" leaks. The young go-getter, played by Kate Mara, is a lowly metro reporter who is looking to circumvent the long climb up the traditional journalism ladder, pitching blogs and gossip columns before becoming Rep. Francis Underwood's exclusive leak outlet.
The sudden ascendency outrages some of her colleagues -- at one point, she's called a "Twitter twat" by the chief political correspondent -- and as the actor who plays her editor, Boris McGiver has gotten an up-close view of the shifting world of journalism.
"It’s showing the end of it, of any verifiable journalism," he told The Hollywood Reporter at the show's New York premiere on Wednesday night. "You don’t stop and verify and check your source," he continued, before miming an editor-reporter conversation. " 'What’s your source?’ 'There’s no time to check the source.' 'How do I know?’ 'We don’t have the time.' 'Put it up!' "
His co-star Constance Zimmer, who plays the hard-nosed and usurped political correspondent, saw the future of the newspaper industry on a daily basis.
"Journalism is fading. It’s so sad," she said. "Newspapers are shutting down. We were filming in the Baltimore Sun’s building, and half of their offices were closed down. It’s very depressing."
Executive producer, writer and showrunner Beau Willimon said the show tried to focus on the endless mill of news, opinion and the marriage of the two, which was something that the original BBC version of the show, which was produced in 1990, did not have to deal with.
"It’s not just the advent of the Internet, it’s the 24-hour scrutiny," he explained. "Everyone becomes a journalist in a way if they have a smartphone, and thinking about a way populist media has been eroding conventional media, whether you think that’s a good or bad thing is irrelevant, because it’s happening."
Willimon, who worked in politics before he began his career as a playwright (he penned Farragut North and the George Clooney film on which it is based, The Ides of March), has seen this shift firsthand.
"When I worked on Chuck Schumer’s campaign in ‘98, the Internet was certainly well and alive in that time, but it certainly wasn’t the focus," he explained. "By the time I worked on Howard Dean’s campaign in 2004, of course that was the central strategy for getting people on board at the grassroots level. And now it’s become a form of direct communication between us and our leaders, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad."
McGiver, a devout reader of The New York Times, offered his own solution to the advent of political bloggers and the misleading stories he thinks they publish.
"It wouldn’t be legal, what I would do, if I was Caesar, I wouldn’t allow the blogs to be there," he said. "They would have to have some type of byline saying, 'By the way, this has not been verified; this is all opinion.' I’d make some of the news organizations -- they say they’re news, but they’re really entertainment -- say that they’re entertainment and not call themselves news. But I’m not Caesar, I don’t think you can legally do that."