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The Newsroom – Getting it right instead of first

An allegory for cable news outlets which jump the gun in reporting news that can turn out to be terribly wrong, Aaron Sorkin holds his fictional network up as an unrealistic role model.

- Season 1, Episode 7 - "5/1"

The Newsroom   Getting it right instead of first [The Newsroom May 1 425x298] (IMAGE)

If only the folks at CNN had spent time marinating in the tao of Aaron Sorkin, really absorbing his wisdom before they unwisely rushed onto the air with the erroneous news that the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned the Affordable Health Care Act they would’ve saved themselves from professional embarrassment and gleeful ribbing on Twitter.

But alas, real news networks like CNN don’t have the benefit of hindsight when they’re making decisions on the fly about whether to go live with a piece of news they have reason to believe is true. There’s no safety net in actual newsrooms like there is at ACN where the journalists always make the right decisions because Sorkin already knows the outcome.

While watching the latest episode of The Newsroom about the killing of Osama bin Laden — which included a preposterous side story involving Will going all Dr. House and popping not only Vicodin but medical marijuana and getting so stoned that he was repeatedly zoning out and yet was still, incredulously, allowed on the air — I finally understood why so many journalists hate this show, other than because of its sanctimonious speeches and inhumanly snappy dialogue. The Newsroom makes the rest of the real world journalists look like craven fools because Will & Co., though they may have personal faults (which somehow never affect their news product), wear shiny, heroic halos.

For once, I’d like to see the ACN folks epically screw up, and not because Will was going overboard in trying to stand up for gay rights that he wound up browbeating a guest, not for inappropriately babbling about their love lives like hormonal teens and not because they’re trying to ferret out the “truth” a la Sloan last week. I’d like to see them report something that was badly sourced or make a slip, or something, anything to make them feel like flesh and blood characters. I get that Sorkin is attempting to sully the characters’ images to make them appear more flawed with their messy, chaotic personal lives, but they’d seem more grounded if they made a mistake that wasn’t rooted in something noble. Sure, have The Newsroom stand for the greater good, the values of truth, ethics and fair play, but its message would be better received if its characters didn’t always make the right decisions.

That being said, one of the best scenes from this episode involved one of my least favorite characters, Don, who was trapped on an airplane that was stranded on the tarmac as the bin Laden news was breaking. When the hissy-fit throwing Don came face-to-face with the pilots, it dawned on him that these folks have a much more intimate connection to this story which trumped Don’s desire to be at the epicenter of the breaking news. “We wanted you, and your first officer, and flight attendant crazy lady to be the first ones on this plane to know that our armed forces killed Osama bin Laden for you tonight,” he declared. The crew’s reaction elicited goosebumps. Ditto for Lonnie, the former Army MP, telling the NYPD cops the news and the Newsnight control room staffer who donned an FDNY cap and rose to his feet as Will reported that “the world has no reason to fear Osama bin Laden” any longer.

Also moving, Neal’s girlfriend Kaylee’s melancholy reaction, contrasting with the newsroom’s celebratory atmosphere, because her father was in one of the Twin Towers when it was hit. She stood on the balcony in a silent vigil as Will and then the president spoke, Kaylee serving as a proxy for the families of the 9/11 victims.

Sorkin’s decision to include such a lengthy excerpt of President Obama’s speech as he vividly recalled the carnage exacted on the nation on September 11 will surely raise questions in some quarters as to whether he was trying to provide the president with a PR boost in an election year, but it was a chilling and compelling decision to have viewers listen to but not see President Obama as the credits rolled.

But the NSA dude, Late for Dinner, telling Charlie that “they’ve” been monitoring illegal electronic surveillance done by AWM, the parent company which owns ACN and whose CEO wants Will fired as the penalty for going after Congressmen and women before whom AWM has business … phone hacking, the show’s going there? I’m not sure how I feel about this development, which’ll likely make Will even more of a “hunted” man than he was in the previous episode.

Photo Credit: HBO

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5 Responses to “The Newsroom – Getting it right instead of first”

August 6, 2012 at 1:37 PM

So, West Wing is now streaming through Amazon Prime. It makes me keep asking the question, what happened to Aaron Sorkin? Did he loose a key writer?

The thing about Osama Bin Laden story line is that there was no conversation about morality of taking a life, even if it was for retaliation and future national security. It was just cheers and congratulations (as if anyone shown had any involvement.) It just bothered me that the issue wasn’t even raised. On the West Wing, the question would have been asked.

Will going on air stoned out of his mind and giving a quality newscast was more ridiculous than a True Blood story line.

August 6, 2012 at 2:36 PM

Ann: That’s a great point that the question would have been asked on The West Wing (In fact it was, in the excellent several-episode conclusion to the third season).

But, personally, I didn’t find that question missing from THIS story in the least. I know that there were many people for whom the morality of this act was in question (I, for the record, am not one of them). But to see a bunch of New York newsmen and women not to think about it in their two-hour thought process? No, doesn’t surprise me at all.

August 9, 2012 at 9:42 AM

I found it incredibly uncomfortable viewing at times. While most of the stories covered have emphasised the faultless moral compass of the newsroom, the killing of a man was the most unquestionably joyful story covered all season so far. I realise the sense of relief that Osama was dead, but I felt a it was always a death that had to happen and it made me a bit ill with the amount of celebratory back-slapping. Perhaps that’s just me.

August 7, 2012 at 11:18 AM

Yes, lets support our REAL journalists–not understand that Newroom is trying to tell it like it should be–not as it is. Few problems with REAL journalists–I would like to find one, how about you? Several years ago–during the Apollo Eleven recovery, I was present at a briefing where a senior member of the WASHINGTON POST explained how, they were setting up their new business model to combine add sales more closely with their hard news operation. He went on to explain how there was a firewall to protect the news. The room,(very conservative), almost laughed him off the podium. Incidentally, it wasn’t long after that news operations became the joke they are today. When Jon Stewart at Comedy Centeral, has a more accurate take on a particular story than our hard news media–something is very wrong, and I find little respect for complaints about Network as it relates to how it shows the news part of the story. Complaints about character, okay, but news coverage not so much. Sorkin’s response is the ratings are fine–the same justification FOX gives when challenged on their News.

August 7, 2012 at 2:21 PM

I believe the pot smoking was inspired by a bit of conversation around whether CNN’s John King was drunk or on sleeping pills while covering the announcement. Google “john king drunk.”