I accept the premise that a free press is essential to a healthy society in the modern world. Not just free though. The press must also be conscientious, ethical, fair minded, committed to the process, values, and mission of journalism over and against profit motive and political ideology. In other words, journalism needs to be impartial again, and its not – not by a long shot.
Journalism is dying.
Journalism is dying because it has an agenda, and it is not to fulfill its essential role in our society. No longer is there any pervasive sense of duty among journalists; no sense of commitment to the role the free press plays in forcing us all to tell the truth about our society and the way we’ve chosen to live together. Now journalism is consumed by nefarious political hackery and salacious games of gotcha. In an effort to fill 24 hours of cable new programming time, true journalism has gone out the window.
I think this is why Aaron Sorkin picked The Newsroom as his newest foray into television screen writing. Aaron Sorkin is one of the best writers of our time, and one of the first great writers of his generation who learned to master the screenplay/teleplay format in a way reminiscent of Norman Lear. Sorkin is at the top of his game, and is profession. He doesn’t just pick projects because they could be successful, or because its a good idea. Sorkin is trying to make a difference.
Sorkin, whose magnum opus was the legendary television juggernaut The West Wing, is one of the only writers working today who has the guts to take on the big issues of our society in a way that calls into question the assumptions we all take for granted. He perfectly positions the complicated dynamics of any situation, and isn’t afraid to pick on every side equally. It’s why conservatives and liberals alike couldn’t stop watching the West Wing. Sorkin tells the ugly truth. He bothers us, he bothers me… and I can’t stop watching.
Neither can America. Everything Sorkin writes is uncompromising. Amazingly he has a knack for writing commercially viable material without going below the belt. His breakout hit was A Few Good Men, seen first as a successful play but finding a huge audience the movie starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. How would you like to say you wrote the line, “You can’t handle the truth.” The Social Network won Sorkin an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. The list of movie credits is impressive: The American President, Moneyball, Malice.
In an era when the press has failed, I’m glad there are writers like Aaron Sorkin out there who are willing to help us understand what went wrong. Nothing could be more appropriate for Sorkin’s biting insight than for him to turn the lens 180 degrees and really stick it to the networks. The problem is (it’s only a problem if we make it one), he’ll stick to all of us in the process. There are no free passes in a Sorkin story. Following in the illustrious footsteps of great movies like Network (1976),and Broadcast News (1987), Sorkin’s new show will exploit the tension between what journalism has become, what it is meant to be – what it must be if we are going to organize our common life together in such a way that we don’t tear each other apart – and what part we all play in its demise. Everybody’s got a little blood on their hands. If you want to find out how, tune in June 24th.
My advice? Turn off Fox News and MSNBC, watch these three trailers… then start figuring out how much it costs to order HBO.