As I have said before, Aaron Sorkin is a brilliant writer who kept West Wing afloat for many a season. Sadly, ‘The Newsroom’ has now bowed out, and had its last run of six episodes last Fall on HBO. Honestly, there are hardly any dramas on any network that deal with Americana and freedom of the press that are of this quality. Madam Secretary is a distant second. In this third season we still have the stellar cast, Jeff Daniels as the lead anchorman, Jane Fonda as Leona the owner, who has now sold out, Sam Waterston as Charlie, the captain of the leaking ship, Dav Patel as the social media savant, and many more. It is a wonderful ensemble cast. In this third season there is a bit less witty dialogue, but the drama is stronger than in the second season. Yes, there is a sprinkling of profanity when things go wrong, but by and large the show is suitable for any college adult and older audience, and it is important because it raises so many of the right questions. For instance…..
What do we really want from the news media— truth and honesty, or truthiness and ideological bias? What do we think about the age of texting and tweeting as sources of information for hard news stories when amateurs become reporters by default? One of the mainstays of real journalism is that one must check one’s sources, protect one’s sources, and confirm with a second ‘amen’ what a source has said. But when one starts broadcasting things from people’s cellphones and texting and tweeting, much of journalistic ethics goes right out the window. ACN, in this show is trying to hold the line, but has been bought out by a jerk who wants titilation and entertainment and the higher ratings it brings rather than journalistic integrity. On the reality front, perhaps you’ve noticed the push back from CBS This Morning against the fluff and feel good entertainment orientation of other morning ‘news’ shows, these days.
Much of the plot revolves around two stories— whether Will McEvoy will give up a source of information to the subpoenaing FBI, or go to jail, and whether there will be honest reporting about the pressing issue of climate change and the effect of pouring more CO2 into the atmosphere and whether the EPA will do something about it. This finale season is set in the Spring of 2013, and so it starts in Boston with the bombing at the marathon, which is also an ongoing thread. Along the way we get the heart-rending ups and downs of office romances to keep the hopeless romantics watching the show, who are not big on the news itself.
I absolutely loved this show, with the exceptions of its occasional foul language, and the display of a lack of sexual morality in office relationships, running roughshod over the personal and professional boundary issues, and raising harassment issues along the way. It is always profoundly jarring and interesting to see people who are deeply committed to ethics in their professional life, but their personal behavior is quite otherwise. But then what we ask of news people is to find the facts, the truth, and honestly report it. Apparently we do not expect them to be moral exemplars……. which brings us to the recent debacle over Brian Williams, and his exaggerations about what he did and didn’t do in Iraq. What we do expect is common or uncommon decency in the way people are treated in the workplace.
This show was both timely in its questioning how the news is gathered and reported, and poignant, and it made one care about the central characters in the story, even with all their flaws. They were real people, with real talent, and also vulnerable with considerable ego flaws. And the behind the scenes look at how news is produced was fascinating in itself.
Let’s hope Aaron Sorkin finds another such project to stand out like a diamond in the mass of dung that is served up to us on TV these days. It is too bad that the major networks passed on this show. Really too bad, or it could have kept going perhaps. Happily, you can now watch all three seasons either on instant video or on DVD, and learn a lot about America and freedom of the press and how important that is to a true democracy.