The series, which premiered on Sunday, has garnered such awful reviews it seems sure to face a quick demise. It’s not one of Sorkin’s better efforts, such as “A Few Good Men” and “The Social Network.”
But it’s typical Sorkin, and typical Hollywood, in many of the myths it’s based on. Those myths are worth addressing.
First is the myth of the Righteous Republican. Like Abraham haggling with God over judgment, He plans to rain down on the unrighteous. Sorkin seems to be pleading that perhaps there are at least a few sane Republicans left.
And therein is the flaw; they believe Republicans don’t merely disagree, they’re either stupid or crazy. That’s not hyperbole; one of the show’s executive producers says one goal is “to speak truth to stupid.”
ABC’s Jake Tapper, a pro who actually works in a newsroom, dismissed this in a scathing review of the show in the left-leaning New Republic.
“(Series protagonist Will) McAvoy—and, by extension, Sorkin—preach political selflessness, but they practice pure partisanship; they extol the Fourth Estate’s democratic duty, but they believe that responsibility consists mostly of criticizing Republicans,” Tapper said. “This is done through the oldest trick in the book for a Hollywood liberal: by having McAvoy be a ‘sane Republican’ who looks at his party with sadness and anger.”
The real target of Sorkin’s sermonizing is clear.
“The fact, then, that the show begins in 2010 — at the height of the Tea Party’s fervor — is no accident; it’s what enables the show’s didacticism,” Tapper wrote. “Sorkin’s intent is to show how events of recent memory could have been covered better by the media if journalists had only had the courage.”
The Tea Party is the focus of much of another episode; the “News Night” staff chooses to dig around for “secret” funding of the Tea Party movement, instead of “sensationalizing” a real story about the Taliban-trained Times Square bomber.
He gets that bit staggeringly wrong — particularly in perpetrating another myth, that Americans who disagree with liberals are just stupid.
That’s what’s behind the well-publicized “rant” in the first episode. Speaking to college students, McAvoy takes issue with the notion that America is great. He argues statistics — about education, about poverty, about quality of life — instead of principles. The college kids who believe in American Exceptionalism just don’t have the facts, he seems to say.
We used to be great, he says, “because we were informed by great men.”
That’s the last refuge of the sloppy historian. Let’s go back to the Tea Party for a moment — which has, more than any other movement in memory, revived interest in the Founding Fathers, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.
If that movement isn’t “informed by great men,” what is?
A third myth is the entire notion of “fair.” By loudly adopting the slogan “fair,” without the “balanced” part of Fox News, Sorkin’s McAvoy seems to be taking clear aim at Bill O’Reilly and his colleagues. Well and good. But to set himself up as a paragon of fairness, even Tapper acknowledges, is a bit much.
“McAvoy shares many weaknesses of other cable news stars — most notably, a blindness to his own ideology,” Tapper said. “This is the disconnect that allows them to proclaim a commitment to truth and beauty right before launching a 10-minute broadside against an opponent’s petty foibles or to make a plea for civility right before releasing a sneering explosion of disdain.”
As entertainment goes, “The Newsroom” falls well short of some of Sorkin’s other fare. It’s too preachy. As political discourse goes, it’s worse.