Monday, July 22, 2013
I thought about doing this last year but to be honest my Mondays are usually busy as hell and my Sunday nights post-11pm are for, well, sleeping. Yes, I'm old. What I'd like to do if at all possible, though, is throw together a couple of quick notes every Monday on the previous night's episode of The Newsroom just from a news production perspective, that is what I think the episode got right, what I found interesting, what I liked, didn't like, and so on. I'm not going to recap the whole show, so if you haven't seen it then you may as well not even bother reading this; it won't make much sense to you.
Last night's episode was called "The Genoa Tip," so here we go.
1. While the show's format of looking back on recent events and injecting the cast -- not to mention Sorkin's pious hindsight -- into it is still really annoying, I liked the dogged pursuit of the Troy Davis story by Don Keefer. I think the Keefer character has been neutered a bit since the show's pilot, but he's still the closest thing on the "News Night" production team to resemble a real TV news producer. His desperation in wanting to save Troy Davis is a nice little admission of two very sincere characteristics in a veteran TV journalist. The first is that as a TV news producer you cover so much crap that after a while you long to be able to do even one thing that you know for a fact is truly important and that has a direct positive effect on someone's life; in other words, kind of like Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs, you feel like if you can save just one, it will have been worth it. Second, you latch onto a personal story that you have unshakable faith in because you want to truly believe that what you do matters, that you can make a difference, and to fight off the demons constantly sitting on your shoulder telling you that you're nothing more than a vulture picking at the remains of people whose lives have been torn apart in one way or another. Stories where it's you identifying with one person who's the victim of some kind of injustice is often where you find your idealism and humanity again.
2. You know, a hell of a lot's been said about how terribly Sorkin writes women, particularly on this show -- how he turns what should be strong, professional female journalists into simpering teenage girls obsessed with boys and shoes and who's dating whom. I always thought that while the show has certainly had its very sexist moments, it's also created some of the strongest, no-nonsense female characters -- dear God, Leona Lansing -- on television. But, yeah, last night's painful pilgrimage by Sloane and Maggie to a laundry room in Queens to basically battle an idiot who writes Sex and the City fan fiction was unforgivable. I get that it's a reality that some of the smartest women in one of the most intellectual cities on earth can still be reduced to debating whether they're Carrie or Samantha if you get enough of them together over drinks, but -- come on.
3. Something needs to be made clear about how journalists think and the way they go about their jobs. I've said it before but it bears repeating over and over: Aside from the shops where the political slant is clearly dictated and well-known -- Fox, segments of MSNBC, etc. -- there really is no liberal or conservative bias in mainstream media. While journalists can be a cynical bunch and it's expected that they'll often not consider a big story a big story until there's actual proof there's something there -- see last night's scene in which the news meeting made fun of Neal's obsession with Occupy Wall Street -- there's really only one thing they're biased toward: conflict. If you're a decent journalist, you'll instinctively and entirely check your politics and personal feelings at the door the second you get a tip on a great story that contradicts them completely. To wit: I'm someone who would at the very least trust my government not to use Sarin gas on civilians and, like Mac last night, I'd never buy such a story until I got 100% confirmation. That said, the second they took that phone call at the end of the show, I found myself immediately willing to throw whatever benefit of the doubt I might be willing to give our country completely under the bus in an effort to pursue the tip. That's how it works. And that's one of the reasons I'm often preaching that as a journalist you need to constantly be testing your theories -- it's to prevent that sudden ferocious instinct that says you've got something huge and want to use it to tear down everything from getting the best of you. It's to prevent the kind of disaster that's obviously going to happen to the "News Night" team.
4. Oh, and while the laundromat scene was stupid, man, Lisa just quietly eviscerating Maggie was pretty excellent.