I had heard good things about this show. The Newsroom is another creation by Aaron Sorkin. In the same vein as The West Wing, it romanticizes the milieu in which it is set. The newsroom. Ideals of what journalism is, what reporting is, what being a newsman is forms the basis of the show. Murrow and Cronkite are clearly heroes to Sorkin. The Newsroom seeks to revitalize the institution of journalism and restore the Fourth Estate to its place as the disseminator of information and facilitator of intelligent conversation and debate. It almost made me wish I had continued with my first major in college. Almost.
Reality tempered the idealism of wishing I’d followed in the footsteps of Murrow and Cronkite with Maggie. Lovable, bumbling Maggie. A recent graduate with massive student loans spending three-fourths of her pay on a closet that passes for an apartment. Hmmm….is it age or experience that makes me gladly pass on living that sort of life with the justification that I am doing meaningful work? Or is it the wisdom that you can do something meaningful without sacrificing your life?
As with all of Sorkin’s works, the dialogue is witty and quick. Mackenzie, the executive producer played by Emily Mortimer, talks of creating good news. Worthy news. “Speaking truth to stupid.” And Charlie, who runs the station and is played by Sam Waterson, mentions that he is “too old to be governed by fear of stupid people.” Something that seems a good thing to aspire to.
The tone of the idealism was set in the opening scene of the first episode. The news anchor, McAvoy, who is played by Jeff Daniels, was on a panel of sorts. Sidestepping every question that came his way. Playing down answers. Revealing nothing personal. The moderator pushed and pushed until McAvoy gave way….and let loose a tirade on a college student who happened to ask the always sickening question of what is it that makes America the best country in the world.
His response deserves to be read in its entirety. I’ll only quote his last bit, after he was winding down from his tirade and was more reflective about how the US used to be great.
“We sure used to be [great]. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons, we passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t belittle it; it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.” (source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2289479/quotes)
I found myself later confused. I loved the speech…the words he spoke jived with my own reality. But on the show he was skewered for that rant. Too close to the truth? Too much outside of the norm? The norm where a serious question is: describe in one sentence or less what makes America the best country in the world. I cringe at the ignorance behind this sentiment…from Americans who dismiss everywhere else in the world without having travelled, lived, or studied outside of the US. To see America as the best country on earth is to show your ignorance and your inexperience. Only those who have no basis for saying this, say it.
One negative I see in the first several episodes is the utter familiarity and the revelation of personal lives between coworkers. Sure, your coworkers learn about you and what is happening in your life. Maybe of your challenges or hard times. But the amount and type of sharing that goes on in The Newsroom seems a bit over the top. I don’t recall The West Wing being as much a soap opera. It is as though there were enough serious topics to discuss in the realm of politics…but that there just aren’t serious topics to discuss in the realm of TV journalism. That would be unfortunate. I’ll keep watching…and live, albeit briefly, in a world where we aspire to intelligence and do not belittle it, to paraphrase the words of an idealistic TV anchorman.