News & Politics

A Movie About the Washington Post’s Lowest Point Is Coming to Netflix

Photograph by Evy Mages

Janet, a movie about disgraced Washington Post journalist Janet Cooke, is in the works, Nellie Andreeva reported for Deadline Thursday. The feature film, for Netflix, will be directed by the bestselling author and former journalist Janet Mock, who has partnered with Ryan Murphy, himself a former journalist and a creator of Glee and other popular series.

Cooke left the Post after editors discovered she had fabricated her 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winning story about a young heroin addict in DC. The Post returned her prize and commissioned a thorough internal investigation of how it screwed up by its then ombudsman, Bill Green. The shock of Cooke’s fabulism still flows through newsrooms today, “like blood through the circulatory system, leaving no area untouched,” as her former coworker and boyfriend Mike Sager wrote for CJR in 2016.

Up to this point, the Washington Post and its leadership have tended to come off pretty well on film. All the President’s Men made a hero of reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as well as Executive Editor Ben Bradlee. Recently, the Steven Spielberg film The Post recounted the paper’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers (after the New York Times did so first, a fact that miffed not a few Times staffers in 2017). Executive Editor Marty Baron was a hero of the film Spotlight, set at his previous employer, the Boston Globe.

One more small twist: Mock is writing Janet with Ned Martel, a former Style section top editor who had an eventful tenure at the Post that included assigning a charticle that led to a fistfight in the newsroom (full disclosure: I played former Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli in a video re-creation of that incident and later interviewed, unsuccessfully, with Martel for a job at Style when my then employer, TBD.com, was melting down) and publishing a famously awful Sally Quinn column. Robin Givhan, the Post‘s fashion critic, left the paper for a spell, reportedly because she didn’t like working with Martel, and when Martel left Style to report on the 2012 Presidential race, the news was met with “gleeful emails by Style writers who have reviled his management style for the past two years,” Harry Jaffe reported at the time.

All that said, Martel led Style during a period when it and the Post were making a very difficult turn away from their print-centered culture, and I’ve often wondered how his tenure might be regarded had he started there later on. Since leaving the paper, his career in Hollywood seems to have flourished–he was a writer on Glee and American Horror Story, for instance.

All of which is to say Washingtonian plans to watch the Post’s coverage of Janet with great interest.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.

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