If you’ve never seen Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom on HBO, you need to. If you don’t have HBO, get it and binge watch all three seasons. I’m not generally a weepy guy, but I found myself getting choked up during nearly every episode. Not because it’s a particularly emotional or sappy show or that I’m a particularly emotional or sappy guy. Both the show and I have our moments, but what gets me about the show is that it’s “The News” the way a guy my age remembers it, wishes it still were and thinks it still should be — honest, accurate, compelling and dripping with integrity.
Okay, so I like the show, a lot, which is why I was jazzed when I was sent this video in an email. The cast of The Newsroom appear in a group interview with Sorkin and Piers Morgan at the Paley Center for Media where we get a little backstage look at the scene that swept the internet (see below).
The Newsroom is a series, set behind the scenes at ACN (Atlantis Cable News) and stars Jeff Daniels as the news anchor, Will McAvoy. Sam Waterson plays the head of ACN, Charlie Skinner and Jane Fonda plays Leona Lansing, CEO of Atlantis World Media (AWM), the parent company of ACN. The show is about the news told as news, rather than inane gossip and word salad that is allowed to be heard by means of an irrational excuse that “fair and balanced” means giving any lunatic equal airtime. It reminds us of the way Cronkite, Morrow and their ilk would speak the truth and hold leaders accountable instead of letting them blather on about whatever the hell they want without interrupting them with pesky facts.
Here’s the opening scene to the pilot episode of The Newsroom. If this clip doesn’t make you sit in a dark room with a tub of ice cream and some popcorn binge watching the entire two seasons, don’t bother friending me on Facebook.
We now live an world in which Alaskan quitter and failed vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin charges viewers more than Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime to view her very own newsy-type gotcha show and where comedian Jon Stewart has had a better handle on current affairs, international politics and sophistry than most cable news channels.
Episode 6 of The Newsroom’s first season, titled “Bullies,” is, at least for me, one of the better episodes and indicative of the news the way it should be. In the episode, sexy economist Sloan Sabbith, played by The Daily Show alumnae Olivia Munn, gets a bit overzealous while questioning a Fukushima plant spokesman post-nuclear disaster. We see anchors crossing the line from tough examination into free-wheeling demagoguery and coming to terms with the reality that being an effective anchor and getting at the truth isn’t so easy, even for those who have idealistically committed to doing things “the right way.” This may sound painfully obvious, but considering that the first episode of The Newsroom was titled “We Just Decided To,” it’s a leap forward to admit that journalists can’t simply decide to report the news accurately.
In this clip, Sloan questions the spokesperson of the post disaster Fukushima power plant in Japanese. She asks the rest of the people in the room to give them some privacy and this, as you’ll see is her fatal flaw.
At around 6:17 of the same clip, Skinner, her boss, comes up with a plan to fix the entire problem, which basically involves lying. Something no one in the newsroom is comfortable with. Anyone born after Reagan was the president would consider the entire premise of this clip a fanciful work of fiction.
Check out Charlie Skinner, played by Sam Waterson, having a fit about the broadcast on ethical grounds. You’d think we lived in a world where news people had a personal stake in accurate reporting.
When do you think was the last time that a news boss actually had a fit about anyone in the newsroom making stuff up or forming an opinion that would exaggerate the facts and spike the ratings? When do you think was the last time that a news boss said something like, “We don’t report what you think,” to a reporter or “Good luck getting a source to talk to you off the record. You’re of no value to me”? Do you think CNN, MSNBC or FOX considers combing through a reporter’s past stories to see where else they lied? Is it even fair, balanced and accurate to call them reporters?
Later in the show, Sloan asks McAvoy, “You want me to lie from the desk?” McAvoy shrugs as you’d expect, but unexpectedly seems troubled by the way things played out. You’d think they’d just murdered someone together and buried the body in the Everglades. That his reaction is both expected and unexpected is a sad commentary on the state of today’s media. Expecting our politicians to lie to us is neither new nor noteworthy, but now we’ve come to expect our reporters and journalists to lie to us as well.
FOX’s Bill O’Reilly has made an entire career out of lying. Bill O’Reilly would lie about what time it is if he thought it would air well. He lied about being in a war zone, in a riot, at the front lines, under fire, and may have aided in covering up a massacre in El Salvador. And guess what? He’s still on the air, currently lying about beating his wife and calling his daughter a liar. Maybe she’s collateral damage all in the name of keeping Papa Bear in the lifestyle he’s become accustomed to?
Partisan news has eviscerated facts, fabricated events and they’ve done it in the name of ratings. Competing networks slant events to favor one particular party or the other and we’re inundated with rhetoric, hyperbole and sophistry. In most cases we’re too apathetic, tired or lazy to apply critical thinking or reason to anything we hear. We have become accustomed to and seem to prefer being told what to think and why to think it.
The next time you’re watching your favorite news show and steaming about what Hannity, Shultz, Sharpton, Blitzer, O’Reilly and others are yapping about, ask yourself this: “Does that even sound reasonable?” Then ask yourself if they’ve ever asked, “You want me to lie from the desk?”