powered by AFI
H. R. Manley, owner of Real Truth tabloid scandal magazine, lives with his mother in an upscale Manhattan apartment enjoying the wealth he has acquired since the magazine's inception, only two years earlier. Mrs. Manley, however, rarely leaves the house, embarrassed by the nature of the tabloid. At a Real Truth staff meeting after legal consultant Homer Crowley announces the magazine's falling distribution totals, Manley threatens to fire his reporters unless they can stimulate circulation by uncovering more lurid and revealing secrets about public figures. When the magazine's printer, Harry Walsh, demands to know why Manley is choosing a new printing company, Manley states that, far from disapproving of his work, he simply hates Walsh. Walsh reminds Manley that he fronted the money for the first edition when the publisher was just a poor man with an idea. After Walsh leaves, Homer suggests Manley apologize to him to buy time to pay off a $100,000 debt he owes Walsh. Instead, Manley demands that his writers produce an extraordinarily sensational issue targeting movie star Mary Sawyer and orders them to follow up on the only lead, Sawyer's childhood friend, Scott Ethan Martin, a floundering marionette entertainer. Meanwhile, Scott, thanks to the hard work of his agent, Seth Jackson, has just secured a spot on a televised children's show. That afternoon, when Manley's mother informs him that once again she has been refused service at the upscale La Toire because of Real Truth , he orders his reporters to write an article ruining the restaurant owner's career. Later that night, Evening Globe newspaper publisher Frank Grover appears on the television show What Do You Read and accuses Manley of "dirtying" the publishing world, prompting Mrs. Manley to tell her son how ashamed she is. Manley, however, insists he is giving the country the "truth" and suggests that she is an ungrateful drunk afraid to leave the luxury he provides her. After only five days on the air, Scott's show is a tremendous success, affording him and his wife Connie the hope that they might be able to provide a better life for their son Joey. Soon after, Manley calls Connie and asks her to his office, where he shows her copy for an article about Scott, revealing her husband's prior conviction for armed robbery. Connie admits that she knows of her husband's past, but explains that Scott served four years for the crime, which he committed as a teen to try to help his ailing mother Mrs. Doyle, but Manley only laughs at her attempts to dissuade him from running the article. Later at the Martin apartment, just after Seth tells Scott that television executive Charles Orrin Sterling has prepared a lucrative contract for him, Connie shows the men the story, explaining that Manley will drop it if Scott will reveal secrets about Sawyer by Sunday. When Scott expresses his reluctance to destroy Sawyer's career to save his own, Seth warns him that the contract offer will be revoked if his past is revealed. That night, after Scott refuses to divulge any information about Sawyer to Connie, fearing that she will try to save him by telling Manley, a betrayed Connie gives Scott an ultimatum: he must choose between Sawyer and his own family. Scott replies that Manley has already destroyed his family without printing a word. On Sunday, Homer warns Manley that they need an exposé about Sawyer, not an article about Scott, to generate sufficient profit to pay the debt. Later, Scott tells Manley he will not reveal Sawyer's secret, rebuking the publisher for already destroying what was most important to him, his wife and son, who have left him and moved to his mother's apartment over the dilemma. When Manley threatens him, Scott punches the executive and leaves. After Sterling is informed of the situation and warns the entertainer that disillusioning the kids is "bad for business," Scott goes to his mother's apartment to carefully explain his criminal past and express his regret to Joey. Scott cautions the boy that his friends will chide him at school when the article comes out, but Joey tells Scott that he is the "greatest dad." Once the article is published, thousands of parents protest Scott's show, forcing Sterling to cancel it. Meanwhile, Connie, realizing she no long has anything to fear, blames herself for failing her husband in his time of need. She then decides to pick Joey up from school and reunite with Scott. As school lets out and dozens of children taunt Joey about his "jailbird" father, the boy flees the schoolyard into the street, where he is hit and killed by a car. After learning of his son's death that evening, Scott rushes to his mother's and finds Connie hysterical. Soon after, Seth tells the grief-stricken father that Frank Frederick, the host of What Do You Read , has invited Scott to share his story that night on the air in hopes of setting the record straight. Scott at first blames himself, but then looking at Joey's picture, realizes that Real Truth must be stopped. Later that evening, when Mrs. Manley visits Connie to ask if there was any connection between her son's actions and their son's death, Connie blames Manley for the tragedy. Meanwhile, at the What Do You Read taping, Scott tells the audience what joy Joey had brought to him and Connie and then proceeds to argue that anyone who bought Real Truth contributed to his death, even if unknowingly doing so. Scott hopes that the next person the readers "poison" will not be their loved one. At the Manley house, after mother and son watch Scott's address, Manley excitedly explains to Homer over the phone that Scott's plea will generate more publicity and thus the necessary sales to save the publication. Watching her son's contemptuous joy, Mrs. Manley pulls a gun from a desk drawer and kills him. When Seth finds Scott and Connie walking home later that night and tells them that the public is upset and will not be buying the magazine, Scott shrugs and replies, "maybe."