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Wolf Blitzer’s Fake News Twist Was the Craziest Stunt of Mission: Impossible — Fallout
You go to the new Mission: Impossible movie for the action. Tom Cruise jumped out of a goddamn plane at 25,000 feet just to impress you. The guy also broke his foot during the filming—then he filmed dozens of more running scenes on said broken foot. But the best stunt of Mission: Impossible — Fallout was not seeing Cruise risk his life for your enjoyment. It was watching a white-haired, 70-year-old news anchor punk a terrorist.
Early in the movie, Ethan Hunt and Luther Stickell are trying to get information out of a terrorist after an attack that IMF agents failed to prevent. They’re in a hospital room, and the terrorist is handcuffed to a chair as CNN plays in the background. IRL news anchor Wolf Blitzer is reporting on three simultaneous nuclear explosions across the world. Hunt and Stickell need answers fast. Unfortunately, the terrorist will only give the code to his plans if Blitzer reads a manifesto on live TV. Hunt doesn’t want to do it, because that means the terrorist wins, but it’s the only way to get the info they need. They phone into CNN, and Blitzer stops his report to deliver the terrorist’s manifesto. Satisfied, the terrorist gives up the code.
But, right as Hunt and Stickell get the code, the newscast stops and Blitzer, in extremely Mission: Impossible-style, reveals himself to be Simon Pegg in a Wolf Blitzer mask. It’s a classic IMF spy tactic. They faked the news broadcast to trick the terrorist into giving up information.
Blitzer’s film career goes back decades, when he first played himself in an episode of Murphy Brown in 1996. Since then he’s appeared as himself in The Campaign, Skyfall, Alpha House, The Brink, House of Cards, and Graves. Every time, he’s reporting on some sort of fictional disaster; in Skyfall, for example, he’s breaking the news that a cyber attack has destroyed MI6 headquarters. These cameos are by no means exclusive to Blitzer. We’ve seen Christiane Amanpour, Anderson Cooper, and Brian Williams in everything from Iron Man 2, to Batman v Superman, to 30 Rock. Even Walter Cronkite once appeared in an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Appearances like these add a sense of authenticity to a movie. That’s the journalist we see reporting on real news in the movie reporting on fictional news! They’re normally fun, if not a bit uncomfortable when people like John King, Soledad O’Brien, Rachel Maddow, and even goddamn Sean Hannity read phony headlines on House of Cards that sound like they’ve been pulled from our actual White House dystopia.
In Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Blitzer punks not only the terrorist, but an entire audience used to seeing these cameos. It’s a nice little reveal that works on multiple levels, but also speaks to the fragility of truth and news media in real life.
Blitzer’s cameo comes at a time when our president is actively marginalizing the fourth estate, and specifically the network that Blitzer works for. It’s a time when journalism is more fragile than ever. Is this a topical joke about our current Orwellian Era of Fake News? Are online trolls going to start sharing a GIF of Pegg pulling off the Blitzer mask to accuse Hollywood Elites of delivering fake news on CNN? Some people have argued that journalists should ethically not even appear in big Hollywood productions like Mission: Impossible, because it crosses the line from news to entertainment. Is this something that could potentially hurt Blitzer’s credibility?
To say Blitzer’s cameo hurts the foundation of journalism is a stretch. Instead, I see it as a giant middle finger to everyone: to audiences used to seeing these cameos play out in movies, and to the sheer ridiculousness of our current Fake News conversation. If anything, I desperately want an IMF Wolf Blitzer mask for Halloween.