The LA Times asks a great question.
What is it about TV news anchors and reporters stampeding to play themselves in fictional movies and TV shows? Do they think they don't get enough screen time doing, you know, their real jobs?
This habit has blotted the reputations of TV journalists for years, even decades. But that egregious Netflix show "House of Cards" has stepped up the self-whoring to a whole new level. Brian Rooney of the Rooney Report totes up the reputational wreckage:
"To name a few: CNN’s John King, Soledad O’Brien, now with Al Jazeera America, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell, and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. Fox opinionator Sean Hannity made a brief splash. The venerable Morley Safer of '60 Minutes,' one of the greatest reporters in the history of television news, played himself in an interview scene with fictional Vice President Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey.... CNN’s Candy Crowley, an otherwise no-nonsense reporter, bowed to the gods of fame and made an appearance on House of Cards. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos had a brief bit in season one and in so doing hit the Matt Drudge trifecta of politico, journalist, actor."
Rooney reserves special contempt for Matt Bai, not a TV name but a former New York Times reporter now at Yahoo News, who portrays himself as Matt Bai telling a rape victim that he's allowing politicians to manipulate his reporting. "From now on," Rooney writes, "when I read something written by Matt Bai, I’ll be thinking about that."
These stunt-casting appearances serve the producers of "House of Cards" by lending the show a veneer of verisimilitude that, frankly, it fails to get from its dialogue, plot and acting.
But what do the news persons get? They're pandering to a public that "already has difficulty discerning fact from fiction in the news," as Rooney properly observes. "They do it with a wink, like they are in on the joke, but it costs them their credibility." The confusion for the public is even worse since "House of Cards" is supposed to be about Washington, where many of these peple report from in real life. Or is "House of Cards" now their real life?
I'd be interested if anyone knows who the first anchorman was to prostitute himself this way at Hollywood's beckoning -- please let it not be Cronkite or Murrow.
Plainly this whole thing has gotten out of hand. Any self-respecting TV news operation would bar its onscreen staff from taking these fictional gigs; but it's quite possible that the news operations figure, hey, it's all in the name of branding, so what could be bad?
But it's not about branding. It's about vanity. Losing your credibility is a high price to pay just for the sake of swanking around as yourself for a Hollywood soap opera; the loss of credibility for the news shows that employ people willing to turn themselves into live-action cartoons is even worse.