The Problem(s) with The Newsroom

September 3, 2012

hbo-newsroomHBO’s The Newsroom recently wrapped up its first season. I don’t watch much dramatic TV, but the former TV news/sports guy in me decided to give this one a try.

In a nutshell, it was a mess. It was like the car accident on the side of the highway that you can’t stop watching. (I’m not sure if I’ll even bother with the next season … but I probably will.)

The show is filled with problems. Here are some.

Realism (of Lack Thereof)

1.) No cable/network TV operation would allow an anchor to go on-air while high on pot. But we’re supposed to believe that Executive Producer Mackenzie and the other ACN staffers who knew his situation let Will go on-air the night that Bin Laden was killed? Never in a million years.

2.) No serious national news operation would pursue a story about trolls leaving anonymous comments on internet forums. Nor would it let Neal (the producer working on the story) go online and post death threats and other crap about his co-workers. This was one of the dumbest storylines I’ve ever seen … on any show.

3.) In one of the episodes when the news team is prepping for its mock political debate, Maggie goes off on a rant against Michelle Bachman because the latter apparently once said something about hearing God’s voice telling her to run for office. But Maggie, who professes to be an active Christian, doesn’t get that. She wants the first question of the debate to be Will asking Bachman, “What does God’s voice sound like?”

If Maggie is really an active Christian (or even an inactive one, to be frank), she wouldn’t be surprised at all by the idea of someone hearing God’s voice. God speaks to believers all the time — through things we see, through friends, through the Bible and, yes, even through the proverbial “voice of God.” (He also speaks to non-believers, but they often don’t hear/recognize Him.) Maggie’s outburst about whatever Bachman said was utterly nonsensical and shows Aaron Sorkin’s complete non-understanding of what it means to be a Christian.


The mission that ACN is on to present a serious newscast is admirable, and I get a kick out of some of the ways in which the show makes digs at what we call journalism today — especially Fox News.

But Sorkin’s personal politics are getting in the way of what could be a very effective commentary on modern news. In seeking to inform its viewers about what really matters, the ACN team has — in every episode — gone after conservatives and/or conservative beliefs. The show rightly points out some of the screwups, contradictions, corruption, etc. of the Republican and Tea parties and their politicians.

But the show ignores the fact that liberal politicians are just as contradictory and corrupt. There’s no balance whatsoever on the show and the result is that Sorkin’s fake news channel is the liberal version of the very thing he obviously hates: Fox News. They’re one and the same; one’s blue and one’s red. But same exact modus operandi. Will McAvoy is ACN’s Sean Hannity.

Oh, sure, Sorkin has gone out of his way in a couple episodes to have Will announce that he’s a Republican. But that comes across as nothing but patronizing to any conservatives who have sat through the series so far. I suspect that’s a small number at this point.

The Biggest Problem

The show’s biggest problem is Aaron Sorkin.

It’s clear that Sorkin passionately hates conservatism and conservatives. He hates the Tea Party. The last episode ends with Will calling the Tea Party “the American Taliban.” WTF??!! Can you imagine the outrage if a TV show called the Democratic Party that? Wow.

It’s also clear that Sorkin hates Christians and/or Christianity. There was one segment earlier in the season in which ACN news aired a montage of heinous crimes committed by Christians. Fair enough. Christians do commit crimes, sometimes in the name of religion. It’s sick and sad.

But liberals also commit heinous crimes (I’m willing to bet that many of the Christian criminals shown in the montage were also liberals.), like the guy who recently opened fire at a Christian group’s office because he doesn’t like their politics. Also sick and sad.

And Sorkin’s hatred of Christians is ironic because there are countless Christians doing “liberal” work all over the world right now — feeding the poor at homeless shelters, building schools, rebuilding homes and neighborhoods in Haiti, trying to save children from the slave trade, and so forth. All the work of Christians, doing the kind of things that liberals love to support.

But you don’t see anything like that in The Newsroom. The show is exactly what it purports to hate: jingoistic and filled with half-truths. It’s a shame because some of the acting and writing is marvelous (Emily Mortimer is fabulous as Mackenzie and Sam Waterston is … Sam Waterston), and some of the personal story lines are interesting. But you have to fight to get past the news team’s self-righteousness and sense of intellectual superiority.

I may come back for season two. But I fully expect the car wreck problems to continue, unless Sorkin changes his approach — an approach that TIME’s James Poniewozik called “Aaron Sorkin writing one argument after another for himself to win.”


  • Reply Juice from HGP September 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Wow! Devastating analysis.

    It’s HBO– what else can you expect? Watch HBO’s The Looming Tower– Prof. Lawrence Wright goes on for 80 minutes about how the US, after 911, is becoming a totalitarian police state. His best evidence? Ready? Are you sitting down? His daughter was wrongly put on an airline terror watch list. For which she was promptly removed and suffered no other problems than maybe a missed flight, if that.

    Though HBO’s John Adams–best miniseries in the history of the medium, first rate on all accounts. Also good wrere Band of Brothers, the Pacific and Generation Kill.

  • Reply Matt McGee September 14, 2012 at 12:25 am

    Agreed re: John Adams. That was fantastic. Haven’t seen the others you mentioned, though.

  • Leave a Reply