The Campaign Spot

Aaron Sorkin Should Try Journalism Sometime.

In the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt, I share a behind-the-scenes look at Fox News Channel’s “The Five” and “Hannity,” as well as the latest Democrats to bail on their convention this summer. Also, a bit of talk about television:

Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Newsroom’ Is As Bad as You Would Expect, In Exactly the Ways You Would Expect

So I caught the new HBO series “Newsroom.”

I’m sure that a lot of readers will roll their eyes and say, “snotty Hollywood liberal elitist,” and . . . yeah. Yeah, he is. But sometimes Sorkin’s political passions dissipate a bit and he creates actually entertaining films and television shows – I’d put “Sports Night” and Charlie Wilson’s War as among his best, and when he can bring himself to put the polemics aside, and just focus on the characters interacting as people, his work can be quite entertaining.

This is not one of those times. “Newsroom” is pretty uniformly insufferable, but it’s particularly frustrating because you can see flickers and glimmers of a better show in there.

Jake Tapper of ABC News reviewed the show for The New Republic, and offers a very fair critique:

The fact, then, that the show begins in 2010—at the height of the Tea Party’s fervor—is no accident; it’s what enables the show’s didacticism. Sorkin’s intent is to show how events of recent memory could have been covered better by the media if journalists had only had the courage. Some of Sorkin’s lessons are well-taken. We see McAvoy under pressure from his bosses to confirm, or at least repeat, the false NPR report that Representative Gabrielle Giffords had been killed. Those scenes ring true, as do others in which ratings pressures are discussed.

But more often than not, Sorkin simply demonstrates his own confusion about what ails journalism. He begins with the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. One of McAvoy’s producers has expert inside sources at BP and Halliburton, so ACN’s “News Night” leads with the story as a tale of environmental disaster, corporate sloth, and government impotence. Meanwhile every other network—bereft of such information—is myopically focused on the fire on the oil rig and the deaths of eleven workers. But citing the BP oil spill is a curious way to charge journalistic malpractice: By my recollection, that was a story the media covered fairly aggressively and responsibly.

I think this is one of the things that grated on me the most; “Newsroom” is clearly Sorkin’s lecture to everyone working in journalism today about how they ought to do their jobs. Except that Sorkin’s perfect fictional journalists are — at least in the pilot episode — working with ludicrously unrealistic perfect inside sources. One producer has both a sister who works for Halliburton and a college roommate who works for BP, and literally within minutes of the explosion, they’re calling the producer to tell him all kinds of derogatory inside information about their bosses — including why the explosion occurred and remarkably foresighted explanations of why all of the initial efforts to cut off the spill probably won’t work. A time-travel storyline would have been more plausible.

One: This has never happened in journalism. Two: Both of these people apparently want to lose their jobs, as they’ve decided to leak information that’s extremely damaging to their employers to a journalist who is their brother/former college roommate. You figure any whistleblower would call a reporter they didn’t know personally in order to hide their tracks.

Then there’s the fact that the show is written from the perspective of two years’ worth of hindsight. In fact, almost all of the facts that the Sorkin Squad uncovers literally within hours of the explosion are from Sorkin’s own research, gathered and written by real-life reporters weeks and months after the disaster began. The show’s creator is railing at journalists, asking why they can’t be as smart as he is, citing their actual work, and is oblivious to the irony.

Oh, and during the broadcast, they show video footage of the burning oil rig labeled, “Baton Rouge, Louisiana.” Baton Rouge is not on the ocean. For a show that’s all about journalists getting it right and the importance of the truth and so on, it’s an appalling error.

I figure this is what happens when CIA employees watch (most) spy movies, law enforcement personnel watch cop movies, lawyers watch legal dramas, doctors watch medical dramas, and folks in the military watch war movies: Ninnies in Hollywood who have never done what you do create a wildly unrealistic portrayal, that make the job look easy and suggest to the public that the people they see doing the jobs in real life are some sort of underachieving disappointment. (And yes, this has real-world consequences; think of the “CSI effect.”) Apparently Sorkin hung around on the set of Keith Olbermann’s “Countdown” as research for this show. Hey, Sorkin, work the seafood beat for the Boston Globe for a while, or work sixty hours a week covering every floor vote in the House of Representatives for a year — you know, the kind of work less conducive to cocaine addicts than, say, playwriting — and see if you think better quality journalism is just a matter of “deciding to do better.”

So what’s the glimmer of a better show in Newsroom? For starters, as Tantaros mentioned on The Five, newsrooms are pretty fun places to work, if you can deal with stress, deadlines, and the occasional meltdown. The news business attracts its own share of . . . odd, often smart characters, often working in this business because they fit in nowhere else. It’s a good setting for a dramatic series, or a comedy series, or both. Things are always happening, there’s always the ticking clock of the deadline, mistakes are made, good work is done . . . the plots write themselves and the inspiration is fresh every morning, provided by the world itself?

Could you imagine a reality series following the Breitbart crew?


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