The idea of Alec Baldwin, a man who has been vocal in his frustration with the media, playing a reporter on an episode of Law & Order was too good to be true. But the episode that aired last night didn't really say much about Baldwin's relationship with the press.
Baldwin played a reporter named Jimmy Mac, a Mike McAlary-type figure, with an old timey over-the-top New York accent that makes him sound like he's playing a supporting role in a His Girl Friday parody. Mac reports for the New York Ledger, which has a masthead suspiciously familiar to the New York Post. In Time, Eric Dodds wrote that Baldwin was playing "his own worst nightmare," but was he really? Baldwin has had his run-ins with New York Post reporters, but in his New York Magazine piece declaring that he was retreating from public life, he specifically took issue with paparazzi and New Media. "In the New Media culture, anything good you do is tossed in a pit, and you are measured by who you are on your worst day," he wrote.
The case in question was ripped from very old headlines, ones that McAlary in fact made. In the show, Mac publishes a report calling a rape victim a liar and her rape a hoax. The woman fabricates the circumstances of her rape, alleging it was a hate crime, when really she was attacked by her brother's bosses. In 1990s McAlary was embroiled in scandal after he was sued for libel when he falsely reported a woman had made up a rape claim. McAlary's initial report "instantly conjured memories of the sensational, racially charged case of Tawana Brawley, a black teenager who, in 1987, falsely accused a gang of white men of raping her," the lawyer for the Jane Doe in that case wrote last year. In last night's episode Mac calls the woman a "Tawannabee."
In their big confrontation, Mariska Hargitay's Olivia Benson diagnoses Mac: "The great Jimmy Mac, it's all gone to your head hasn't it. The awards, the long night's at Elaine's, the celebrity." He adds "the Knicks tickets." She continues: "It's sad, you used to be good, you used to have a conscience." That has hints of Baldwin's screed—his notion that the media ain't what it used to be—but it's a stretch. Mac's celebrity is of a different, antiquated sort. Elaine's is closed down.
Eventually Mac admits his mistake and ends the episode a good guy. Maybe it's Baldwin's (and the SVU writer's) secret comment about how the old media had it's good and bad elements, but the good mostly won out. Or maybe it's just a TV show.