The main problem with Episode 9 of The Newsroom, “Blackout Part 2: Mock Debate,” is that its central storyline, ACN’s (and Aaron Sorkin’s via Will McAvoy) vision of a “better” debate format is based on two flawed assumptions. First, Sorkin suggests the actual participants in the real GOP primary debates didn’t face tough questioning from moderators. In fact, between May 5, 2011 and March 3 2012, there were 27 such debates. Ask Rick Perry, whose promising candidacy faded as a direct result of the debates, if he felt they weren’t tough enough. Out of close to 60 hours of debate footage, the episode cherry-picks ONE softball question posed to Michelle Bachmann and implies that it's a representative sample. Sorkin is full of shit. And I mean that in a nice way.
For what it's worth, the entire GOP primary debate schedule and video replays can be seen here.
The second problem with Sorkin’s premise is that low ratings would prevent the GOP from staging a debate on a given network. In the real world, even lowly CNN was a participating sponsor of six debates. The idea that ACN could not have gotten at least one of the 27 without covering the Anderson/Anthony stories to raise their ratings is simply preposterous.
Furthermore, does anyone seriously think the problem with the way current political debates are conducted is that there’s not enough reporter involvement? I’ll answer that. No. ACN proposes a format that seems modeled after a Bill O’Reilly interview: fire questions at the candidate, don’t give them time to answer, and then quickly fire off a follow up question. Does anyone think that representatives of either party organization would agree to such an arrangement? I’ll answer that. No.
Thus, the whole premise is just a thinly veiled way for Sorkin to spout his own personal political sound-bites. Of course, the irony is that quick sound-bites are the exact thing Will McAvoy complains about. Sorkin certainly has the right to express his opinions. But, there’s nothing entertaining about how he does it.
In fact, “Blackout Part 2: Mock Debate” may be the worst episode of the series.
- Mackenzie notes during the blackout that the ACN team has gotten to be unpleasant. Was there ever a time when they were pleasant? And her plan to reenergize the team by doing an outdoor remote (“a miracle happens”) seemed, in a word, inane.
- If, as Will McAvoy and the ACN team believe, Anthony Weiner lying about marital indiscretions is a non-story and too low-brow a topic to cover, why is McAvoy’s first debate questions to a pretend Newt Gingrinch about the congressman's marital indiscretions? One can argue that it’s really about the lying. But, that is exactly why the Weiner story stayed on the news radar for so long. He kept lying.
- Isn’t Don a bit young to be able to make an Ice Station Zebra reference? Maybe not. But it sounded more like Sorkin than Don.
- The scene where Don and Sloan tell the snarky GOP representative to fuck off may have resonated with Sorkin and folks who agree with his politics. Otherwise, it was a laughably melodramatic moment. And, of course, Sorkin includes his trademark “sympathetic Republican” (Adam Arkin) to appear "fair." HA!
- I know Sorkin hates the Internet, but in point of fact the unpaid administrators at Wikipedia would most likely have quickly noticed and corrected Neal’s alteration of Sloan’s page (more on this below under Sorkin Misogyny Watch). A 2007 New York Times Magazine article more or less applauded the site’s ability to manage itself:
"Nothing is easier than taking shots at Wikipedia, and its many mistakes (most often instances of deliberate vandalism) are schadenfreude’s most renewable resource. But given the chaotic way in which it works, the truly remarkable thing about Wikipedia as a news site is that it works as well as it does. And what makes it work is a relatively small group of hard-core devotees who will, the moment big news breaks, drop whatever they’re doing to take custody of the project and ensure its, for lack of a better term, quality control."
It’d be interesting to see The Newsroom have at least one storyline on how the Internet mechanisms through which people now get their news actually work. But, to do that, one needs to actually know how these mechanisms work.
- Will falling down in front of everyone while trying to put on his pants. Really?
Sorkin Misogyny Watch:
- I wasn’t sure if this belongs under “misongyny” or just bad writing, but the woman buying the dress from Lisa (and who didn’t care if the designer was a holocaust denier) was an unbelievably two-dimensional character. And why doesn’t Jim know how pricey the dresses are at the shop where Lisa works? One could say it’s because he’s not enough into the relationship to bother finding out about her job. But aren’t reporters naturally inquisitive? I’m just asking.
- It’s okay for Sloan to be attracted to Brian. But does she have to act like a swooning teenager about it? I’m only asking.
- And isn’t Neal a bit too eager to tell Sloan about what he plans to post regarding her breasts and “slutty body movements” as part of his covert troll operations? The dialog during their scene was cringeworthy.