In the show, Camille is initially sent to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to investigate a series of murders. But, as has previously been noted by Vulture and Elle, she takes a lackluster approach to reporting at best. She ignores multiple potential sources. She’s permanently inebriated. She breaks ethical boundaries and lies to her editor about them. She rarely documents any of her interviews. (In the picture above, observe that she’s apparently listening intently to someone and yet her notebook is closed.) Even worse: At the end of the most recent episode of Sharp Objects, “Falling,” Camille slept with someone who’s 18 years old, a murder suspect, and one of her primary sources.
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.
Be careful what you wish for. In 2016, Netflix released four follow-up episodes to the hit series Gilmore Girls, which allowed viewers to finally see Rory (Alexis Bledel) at work as a freelance journalist in her mid-30s. Only Rory, it turned out, was no exception to the Hollywood rule. She showed up on reporting trips with such low investment in her work that at one point she fell asleep during an interview. She arrived at a job interview disastrously unprepared and without a single story idea. And she, too, slept with a source, in this case someone dressed as a Wookiee at a Star Wars convention. (It’s unclear whether she followed the most basic reporting mandate of finding out what the Wookiee’s name was and how it was spelled.)
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.