Fletch doesn’t back down from his intentions to print the story until Karlin places a gun in his face. “I’m a newspaper reporter. You don’t just blow away a reporter,” Fletch pleads, before agreeing not to print the story.
The film came out in 1985, an era when investigative journalism was robust, and the impact of Watergate was still on people’s minds. The hard-hitting, authority-questioning journalist was a hero and protector of the people. And yes, while this is a comedy, Fletch’s character is hopelessly romantic about his job, risking his life with his reporting. He manages to singlehandedly infiltrate this sordid, criminal world, all to the tune of a heavily synthesized keyboard score.
After his near-death experience, Fletch returns to the newsroom, to an unsympathetic editor:
Frank: Fletch, I need an article from you by tomorrow. And I don’t want any of these unsubstantiated charges about dope dealing cops or any of your horseshit paranoid fantasies about homicidal police chiefs. Give me something I can print!
To which Fletch holds out his middle finger and tells his editor to “print this.”
Fletch proceeds, going incognito with some novelty teeth and trying his luck as an airline technician who casually shares a name with Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy.
All of this resolves in a happy ending. Fletch gets his story printed, and even snags Gail Stanwyk as his new girl. Fletch is the good guy, and because we know that, cutting every corner to get the bad guys is completely acceptable. He sleeps with a source, breaks into private property, approaches every interview subject undercover, even impersonating a government actor, all with a breezy, flippant reserve. Boy, if real journalism were only like this.