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Jewish World Review May 22, 2001 / 29 Iyar, 5761

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports


The teacher's last lesson


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- I DIDN'T know Ginny Carroll, but I'm certain of one thing: She had no idea she was about to die.

Carroll, 53, was a former Newsweek reporter who became an associate professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism last September. Last week her body was found in her home; the medical examiner said she died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease.

The last lesson for her students The reason I know she was not aware of her impending death was that she wrote to me last month, asking my help in getting her students excited about the news business. She wrote:

"I'm supposed to teach a summer course called (shudder) `Culture and Economics of Journalism.' Needless to say, with a stinky name like that, students are not clamoring to take it."

She said she had heard that my favorite newspaper movie was "Deadline U.S.A.," released in 1952 and starring Humphrey Bogart as the editor of The Day, a paper that's going out of business, but still tries to doing things right. She said she had unsuccessfully been trying to find a copy to show to her students. Did I have one?

She was right that you can't find "Deadline U.S.A." on video. We exchanged correspondence -- she invited me to come talk to her students -- and then I picked up the paper to find her obit.

I don't have "Deadline U.S.A.," but I know it line-for-line. So here, for her students, is some dialogue from the movie. Maybe they'll understand why their teacher loved it.

In the most famous scene, Bogart (who played editor Ed Hutcheson) is in the pressroom. The last edition of the paper before it dies will report that mob boss Tomas Rienzi is responsible for the murder of a former girlfriend. The young woman kept a diary -- and The Day has it.

Rienzi, from his home, calls the pressroom. Bogart picks up the phone.

RIENZI: Hutcheson?

BOGART: Hello, baby.

RIENZI: (after hearing that the newspaper has the diary): What diary? Who's gonna believe what a little tramp writes to herself? Wait a minute! Don't hang up! Here's some advice for you, friend: Don't press your luck. Lay off me. Don't print that story!

BOGART: What's that supposed to be -- an order?

RIENZI: If not tonight, then tomorrow. Maybe next week, maybe next year. But sooner or later, you'll catch it. Listen to me! Print that story and you're a dead man.

BOGART: It's not just me anymore. You'd have to stop every newspaper in the country, and you're not big enough for that job. People like you have tried it before -- with bullets, prison, censorship. But as long as even one newspaper will print the truth, you're finished.

RIENZI: Don't give me that fancy double-talk. Yes or no?

(The pressroom clock hits 10:30 p.m. The foreman looks at Bogart, who nods. The foreman hits a button, a bell rings, and the presses roar. The noise is overwhelming.)

RIENZI (still on the phone): Yes or no?

(Bogart holds the phone out toward the presses.)

RIENZI: Hey, Hutcheson! That noise! What's that racket?

BOGART: That's the press, baby, the press. And there's nothing you can do about it. Nothing.

(Bogart hangs up, the papers roll off the presses, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" sounds in the background, the movie ends.)

Remember -- this was made in 1952. The "There's nothing you can do about it" line may strike some people as arrogant in our current media age.

But there's another scene that Ginny Carroll asked me about -- a scene she especially wanted her students to see.

In that scene, the elderly mother of the dead young woman shows up at the newspaper wanting to tell Bogart what she knows. The police have been indifferent; the judges have been bought.

The old woman has ridden the subway all night. In broken English she tells Bogart that when she came to America, she learned to read by looking at his newspaper every day. She taught herself how to be a good citizen by reading the paper's news coverage. Bogart asks if she realizes what danger she may be in by coming to the paper.

The old woman looks at Bogart and says:

"You are not afraid. Your newspaper is not afraid. I am not afraid."



JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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