‘The Newsroom’ 2.7: Institutional failures and sucker slaps

Don’t take his stapler OR misquote him.


Raheem Hosseini
6:02 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 29
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin really seems to want to talk about President Obama’s shadow government—drone strikes, domestic spying, his whistleblower crackdown—and I’d like to oblige him. Did anyone else see that story about a drone being used to fight the Rim fire? Is the government trying to drum up some positive PR for these maligned death birds?

When I was an editor in ultra-conservative Jackson, I exhausted readers with my Dubya smackdowns on the opinion page, much of it aimed at the very things Obama now does on the reg. But I haven’t really gotten up into Barry’s nose. I think it’s because this sense of déjà vu is just so damn exhausting. Like, we had this battle already. And we won! Now we gotta fight it with the guy who wanted to close Guantanamo? Blimey!

I don’t think Obama is making these decisions as your typical stooge of the military industrial complex. Obama isn’t a war hawk. What he is, maybe against his will, is the caretaker president. He’s the guy holding America’s hand as it crosses the unsteady bridge leaving Shit Towne. Two wars, economic collapse, unresolved immigration and (until him) health care crises. He may have wanted to be the reformer, but circumstances are making him the guy who changes America’s Depends.

That’s not me excusing Obama’s choices, just an attempt to contextualize them. I still think the hefty Bradley Manning sentence and the teeth-gnashing hunt for Eric Snowden represent a shameful attempt to keep secret doings secret.

But back to make believe.

Dave, I wondered myself how Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater) expected to get away with such a big fat fib. I mean, did he think nutty three-star General Stomtonovich (Stephen Root) would be too engorged with college basketball rankings that he’d skip the broadcast? Seems as unrealistic as G-Stom’s wacky character.

Or maybe Dantana is a zealot who can’t see anything outside his own truth. Which is a terrible trait to have as a journalist. It’s too easy to fall in love with the narrative you think you have, and go chasing only the things that support it. (For our next workshop, we’ll talk about how not to conduct a leading interview. Thanks, Mac!) Just because you have two points doesn’t mean there’s a straight line between them. I try to keep in mind the humbling quote, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” It has torpedoed many awesome story premises as I stumble through the reporting process. Stupid facts, grumble grumble.

So I don’t know if this was clarified in an earlier episode and I just missed it, but finding out the season-long sword of Damocles hanging over our beleaguered TV newsies was a wrongful termination suit from Dantana leaked some air out of the drama balloon. Here I had assumed the Pentagon was suing News Night for their fabricated Genoa war crimes story, not a news producer who takes the “producer” part of his title too literally.

Aside from that—and the mwahaha! reveal of news division president Charlie Skinner’s (Sam Waterston) government informer—I thought Sorkin & Co. handled the proceedings of “Red Team III” like a well-executed deposition.

Seriously, Charlie’s Deep Throat blames his junkie son’s OD on getting fired from an unpaid internship? Adam, are you interns that fragile? Because I am sorry for pretty much everything then.

But even if I didn’t buy the grieving source’s motive for screwing over his old friend, I enjoyed the parking garage confrontation from the moment Charlie complained about the setting. I don’t think this show is destined for any Emmys, but Waterston deserves some sort of gold trophy for “Most Boss Reaction to a Backhanded Slap Ever.” In that split-second flinty stare, I knew bowtied Charlie Skinner is the destroyer of worlds.

Other thoughts:

-Will’s reaction to the special Genoa episode getting a season-high 5.8 rating: “Those are I Love Lucy numbers.” Dude, those aren’t even an Life with Lucy numbers. The former averaged a 43.7 rating during its worst season.

-Mac moves her head from side to side when she reads emails. Which I find oddly soothing.

-Will’s parables about Claudette Colvin being the un-focus grouped Rosa Parks (thus keeping the Civil Rights movement percolating until a certain MLK arrived), FDR’s wobbly chair saving him from an assassin’s bullet (and ensuring the New Deal), and why we now test rockets in cold weather was a neat projection into bastard timelines. I plan to pass them off as my own at cocktail parties.

-Speaking of alternate timelines, when the hell did Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) chop her hair exactly? They seem to be playing it rather fast and loose with the continuity details here.

-Stoned Fiona Lansing (Jane Fonda) with her Daniel Craig fetish and granny slang (“hizzy”?)—totally unbelievable character, completely welcome presence. Someone needed to crack a damn joke.

Grade: B


Dave Kempa
11:48 a.m., Friday, Aug. 30
You’re 100 percent right on the Dantana bit, Raheem. I know we’re supposed to suspend disbelief (or whatever) for TV and movies, but the idea of a producer trying to pull something that insane, on a story that big, doctoring footage to misquote an effing general, for national news television? I can’t even try to buy it.

Speaking of leading interviews, Raheem, why did you crash the SN&R Porsche?

Sorkin does truly push left-left (though today sorta just left-of-center) hot topics like drones—part of the reason I believe he was secretly an Occupy Wall Street man back in the movement’s heyday.

Here’s my issue with the Obama thing: shouldn’t we be looking at his actions solely on their merit? I think if we start mulling over why he does what he does, we start to get lost in the weeds. At the risk of sounding like an asshole, I don’t care about Obama as a fella. I really only care about what he does as the leader of the country. In that regard, we’ve got plenty of difficult questions to keep hurling his way. (All lofty idealism aside: I’m just as tired as you with this shit. And why did they have to call them “drones”? That immediately makes me think of the dull, soulless hum that I associate with the beltway’s political discourse.)

The Skinner informant reveal really threw me out of my enjoyment of the show as well. How unrealistic is that? Would Skinner ever go public with what transpired with the fake leak, or does that constitute burning a source? Either way, Adam, we’re taking you out for an iced tea and a hug.

Shoka, have you ever seen Empire Records? You know that scene where the semi-suicidal goth girl shaves her head? That’s what I’m hoping we see with Maggie’s hair. Either that, or she really does just get a bad dye job at a Crown Heights salon called Africa.

Grade: C+


4:16 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30
What? What are you guys doing? Could you just stop watching TV and turn in your stories on time?

Grade for managing stress this week: D

Grade for episode (let’s be frank, I’m not even counting): Z


Adam Khan
6:21 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30
It’s true that no journalist in his right mind would ever think of cooking a story like Genoa, especially in an age where internet scrutiny can uncover faked George W. Bush war documents and topple industry titans like Dan Rather. But the case can be made that Dantana’s rash act wasn’t an unbelievable one because he wasn’t in his right mind when he decided to play Mario Batali with the raw footage.

The poor producer’s capabilities had been doubted since the day he came on board, fresh from the corrupt quagmire of Washington D.C. It was made clear from the first episode that Dantana had a fixation with drone strikes and all things shady with the military. Finally, an opportunity comes before him to deliver a fatal blow to the Obama administration and launch his own career into the stratosphere.

Genoa was a Dantana wet dream, and his coworkers weren’t the least bit emotionally supportive of his quest to serve justice. Ultimately, he risked his career because he truly believed in Genoa, and that led to his ultimate downfall. Dantana isn’t the season’s “bad guy” so much as “Evil Deep Throat” and his crack baby revenge schemes. [Poster’s note: Don’t ever google “Evil Deep Throat.”] Who knows? Had his news team showed a little more enthusiasm for his story, the holes in Genoa might have become apparent right from the start.

With that, a few notes:

-Leona Lansing’s character reminds me of deranged millionaire John Hodgeman on The Daily Show, for all the right reasons.

-The romance in this series seems to serve as a major plot device in one episode, only to be absent for another. Either it’s important and we should care, or it’s not and I’ll get my fill with the Twilight box set. Just let me know.

-Why does super lawyer Rebecca Halliday (Marcia Gay Harden) solemnly let Will, Mac and Charlie resign only to storm in at the end of the episode to stop them a la Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate?

-Alas, if only life were as simple as a crack pipe and an internship. Don’t worry Raheem, no matter how stressful this summer has been, only Heisenberg and his magic “Blue Sky” could tempt me toward a life of addiction.

-I think Maggie cut her hair a few months after returning from Uganda, just prior to the Dantana lawsuit being filed. It seems a bit untimely to publicly mourn, like, four months after the fact, but hey. I’ve never killed an African child as far as I’m aware.

-Charlie’s Evil Deep Throat source had a horrible plan by writing “Fuck you Charlie” in magic disappearing ink on a document that was to be used in the implication of a national war crime. I’m sure someone must have checked the munitions manifest for authenticity, and that process would no doubt involve the paper being exposed to light for a brief period of time. What if Charlie, with his aging eyes, just needed to read the manifest in better lighting? Imagine his surprise when a piece of evidence suddenly reads f^$# you. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling photons!

-Is Neil Sanpat (Dev Patel) even aware that he inadvertently caused the death of an intern and set this whole thing in motion? If so, is Neil the kind of guy to be mortified or somehow proud of his importance?

All in all, the flashbang ending with Leona’s hilarious Daniel Craig asides proved a much-needed treat—for once, the ending of one episode made you look forward to the next, as opposed to tuning in for blog material. If anything, Sorkin deserves some kudos for this achievement.

Grade: B+

SN&R staff on 2.6
SN&R staff on 2.5
SN&R staff on 2.4
SN&R staff on 2.3
SN&R staff on 2.2
Shoka on 2.1
Dave on 2.1
Raheem on 2.1
Adam on 2.1
Adam on season 1

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