During a July 17th interview on NPR's Fresh Air, Aaron Sorkin characterized The Newsroom as aspirational and "meant to be a fantasy set against very real and oftentimes very serious events." Of course, I had come to that conclusion a while ago. And its latest installment finally removes all doubt.
Amen, the fifth episode of HBO's The Newsroom covers a lot of ground. So, forgive me if my review seems to jump around (it's not my fault). The center piece of the episode concerns the twin protests in Egypt that mark the start of the so-called “Arab Spring” and protests by union workers against Wisconsin Governor Scott Wilson. It is suggested that the latter of these events is part of a complex conspiracy. Amen contains scenes with Sorkin's characters use overly confusing and convoluted dialog (even for Sorkin). But then again, descriptions of most conspiracy theories are generally convoluted and confusing (more on that later).
In Egypt as events unfold, ACN anchor, Elliot Hirsch, is violently beaten by a crowd of dissidents. Here, Sorkin makes a curious choice as his depiction of the Hirsch incident seems to have been inspired by the real-life ordeal endured by CBS reporter Lara Logan. Logan was sexually assaulted during the protests in Egypt by an angry mob. Did Sorkin decide to totally ignore that actual event and, instead, fictionalize it out respect for Logan's privacy? On the other hand, perhaps Elliot Hirsch stood in for Lara Logan because Sorkin figures the female characters on The Newsroom get abused enough already.
In any event, to me, it seems a glaring omission. But one I would hardly characterize as "aspirational."
The film ends with Ruettiger being triumphantly carried off the field by his teammates. While a tear-jerking moment in the film (as acknowledged by the ACN reporters), like the Logan incident, The Newsroom glosses over reality with a more aesthetically pleasing version of events.
In his 2009 radio interview with Dan Patrick, a former NFL player and Notre Dame alumnus, Joe Montana, stated that the ending of the movie is mostly bullshit (BOLD added)
Dan Patrick: Were you there when Rudy was there?
Joe Montana: Yeah. It's a movie, remember. Not all of that is true.
DP: What wasn't true?
JM: Well, the crowd wasn't chanting. No one threw in their jerseys. He did get in the game. He got carried off [at the end of] the game. [...] Back then they tried to play someone at the end of [the season] that all the seniors could get in the last home game. The schedule was kind of set that way.
So he got in. He did get a sack. And then the guys carried him off, just playing around. I won't say it was a joke, but it was playing around. He worked his butt off to get where he was and to do the things he did. But not any harder than anyone else.
The Montana interview received no small amount of attention at the time, so it’s somewhat amazing that NONE of the ACN reporters reference it. Rather then present aspirational fantasies, the pilot episode more or less promised that The Newsroom would function to shine a light on the various myths our culture creates that lead to the "uninformed" public we hear so much about on the show. Instead, it turns out, The Newsroom deliberately perpetuates these myths.
While a minor point, I also find it ironic that the real-life Rudy perpetrated a “pump and dump” stock scam which bilked investors in a sports drink company he was touting. It was the Rudy Ruettiger legend that lured investors to buy the stock in the first place (which "pumped" up the stock's price and allowed Rudy to "dump" it at a profit). Given that crammed into Amen is a subplot about malfeasance in the financial markets, couldn't a really good writer have done something with this actual Ruettiger trivia? But, as a newspaper editor in director John Ford’s revisionist Western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance says at the end: “when legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
Speaking of legend, there’s a lot of discussion in Amen about the trend toward governmental deregulation and how it contributed to the default of our financial markets. Financial reporter Sloan Sabbith (who is schooling MacKenzie on the investment world) credits Ronald Reagan with starting “the era of deregulation.” However, while deregulation was certainly a major part of the Reagan LEGACY, the actual trend predates his administration. There’s no mention in the episode of Jimmy Carter's Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 or the de-regulatory actions of Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon before that. To be fair, there is one QUICK moment when MacKenzie stops counting on her fingers long enough to mention that it was Bill Clinton who passed the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act in 1999.
Finally, it appears that Season One of The Newsroom will continue to feature the Koch brothers as the major antagonists. In the confusing and convoluted dialog I referenced earlier, the ACN news team outlines how the evil duo bought the Supreme Court in order to uphold the legality of unregulated political contributions. However, as Charlie Skinner points out, this would also benefit the unions. So, the brothers have to put the unions in Wisconsin out of business as part of their plot to "rig the system." See how it all fits together? These Koch brothers seem cut from the same clothe as a garden variety James Bond villain. On the other hand, the Koch scheme isn't nearly as clever as making the Fort Knox gold supply radioactive (a more plausible fantasy).
Sorkin Mysoginy Watch:
- Why does MacKenzie have to count on her fingers? Is finance SO complicated for someone with her background that she needs Sloan's help getting up to speed? And was Mac the ONLY news person in the world who didn't know it was Bill Clinton who repealed Glass-Steagall? Really?
- Once again we are reminded of MacKenzie's email mistake and later shown another example of women struggling with "technology" as Maggie manages to hit Jim with a glass door not one, but TWO times?
- Are women really THAT obsessed about Valentine’s Day?
Final Random Thoughts:
- Am I the only one who thought that, not counting Elliott’s beating, the injuries of Jim, Don, and Neal which McAvoy dramatically lists during his tense showdown with TMI's Nina Howard are the result of simple office mishaps and, as such, laughable?
- Is there anything edgy about a character punching a TV screen showing a Rush Limbaugh rant? Sorkin’s really taking a creative risk here, no?
- In one of the most strained metaphors I’ve seen since the Bigfoot references from the last episode, Amen ends with the news crew entering McAvoy’s office one by one, like Notre Dame starters turning in their jerseys in solidarity with Rudy Ruettiger (again, something that didn’t really happen), to contribute money to Will after he personally buys the freedom of the episode’s titular character held captive in Egypt.