The lazy trope of the unethical female journalist

For some reason, and despite all assurances from reporters to the contrary, Hollywood is stuck on the idea that female journalists are having sexual relationships with their bosses, their sources, or both. In 2015, Marin Cogan analyzed the phenomenon for New York magazine, lamenting the trend of depicting women reporters as “slutty ambition monsters.” Citing the characters of Zoe Barnes in House of Cards (who trades sex with Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood in exchange for stories) and Heather Holloway in the movie Thank You for Smoking (who seduces a lobbyist and then exposes everything he told her privately), Cogan decried the extent to which fictional portrayals of journalists influence the way people view them in reality. “Would it kill Hollywood to give us one grown-up Rory Gilmore?” she asked…

The trope of the unethical female reporter has persisted for several decades, throughout fiction, film, and television. Sarah Lonsdale writes in her 2016 book, The Journalist in British Fiction and Film, that the timing is ironic: As women have increasingly entered journalism and achieved high-level jobs in the industry, “their cultural representations have become increasingly negative and stereotyped.” You can trace the pattern back at least as far as 1981, when Sally Field played a Miami reporter in the Sydney Pollack movie Absence of Malice. Field’s character committed a number of ethical indiscretions, including having an affair with the subject of one of her stories, a liquor wholesaler played by Paul Newman, and publishing off-the-record information that caused a woman to die by suicide.