Fictional journalists behaving badly on old time radio

I’ve been doing more posting at Newspaper Heroes on the Air (jheroes.com) than here lately, so a cross-reference seems in order. If you haven’t visited that site, please do.

On the weekends, I’ve been commenting on an “Adventures of Superman” storyline that includes some disturbing behavior by Clark Kent. Maybe in the first year or two of the series the writers hadn’t quite faced the moral or ethical issues of being a super-powerful being — or of writing about one for an audience of children.

In the last few episodes, we’ve heard Kent (as Superman) terrorize an admittedly annoying lawyer to get the names of the alternate beneficiaries in a will — because Kent suspects one of them is sabotaging the primary beneficiary, Metropolis University. The university needs the money to fund polio research, which seems to justify any sort of behavior to Kent. Without even switching to his costume, he also tailed and knocked-out a man he suspected of being part of the plot. While the man was unconscious, Kent became Superman to whisk him back to the city, only to be told the kidnapped man was completely innocent. At least Kent admitted his mistake.

At midweek, I’ve been commenting on a more adult serial — a soap opera called “Betty & Bob,” about a married couple who publish a crusading newspaper while also facing all the usual soap-opera issues of love, marriage, family, evil conspiracies, mental and physical illness. (Actually, “Betty & Bob” helped establish those soap-opera standards, being one of the first series by the soap-opera industry’s most prolific producers and writer, all of whom were former newspaper reporters. See my more general essay on the subject.)

Betty and Bob have also faced a troubling ethical decision: Just as they began investigating a new city manager, his daughter was arrested for drunken driving. They suppressed the story, which they saw as giving the new city manager a fair chance — but it also helped them get closer to the man. Then the troubled daughter was arrested again — this time after injuring a child.

In between the soap opera and Superman episodes, I’ve added JHeroes items for both St. Patrick’s Day and women’s history month, and updated my page about “newspaper movies” that were adapted for radio. In the fall I plan to make some use of those pages in a course on the Portrayal of Journalists in Popular Culture — including novels, films and radio.

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.

Posted in ethics, fiction, jheroes, oldtime radio

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