Last night’s episode of The Newsroom had a scene which encapsulates everything I dislike about the show. A side plot had Don, Sloan, and that one recurring character who hosts another show on a plane that was stalled on the tarmac. Sloan, and especially Don, wanted to get off the plane, or at least switch seats so they could’ve more easily communicated and/or look at each other’s phones or something as they were getting news of bin Laden’s death. Unfortunately, a flight attendant refused to let Don leave his seat (of course, the attendant is a female character that was in the way of the male trying to do his god-given duty to be an Important Journalist). Anyway, near the end of the episode, Don eventually caused enough of a fuss to get the pilot’s attention. It’s at this point that Don noticed the stripes on the pilot’s uniform and, starry-eyed, decides to inform the surrounding crew members of bin Laden’s death, followed by, and I roughly quote, “we reported the news!”
Let’s look at what happened in that one moment. We have Sorkin trying to traffic in the deeply held sentiments of an actual event into a fictional narrative, without really adding anything of note to the mix thematically. That’s one way to be manipulative. Then, we have that bit about them reporting the news by announcing to the crew the news about bin Laden, showing them to be unable to be present in the moment, unable to be present without patting themselves on the back for being journalists.
I’ll admit I went into the show with high hopes. The Social Network, and to a lesser extent, Moneyball, had great scripts, but The Newsroom, and this scene, takes the problems those films had and amplifies it. The self-importance, the misogyny, other problems that better writers have discussed. Sorkin doesn’t even know how to write these emotionally manipulative scenes that probably any hack TV drama writer can write in thirty seconds without undermining its false power with his overcompensating desire to prove journalism’s worth at every moment (well, any moment that’s not about the characters’ personal lives, yawn). This scene should have been the easiest gimme ever but he even flubbed that up. It’s become far too easy to hate on Sorkin, but with a show like this on his hands (and not to mention his response to the criticism of it), it’s impossible not to.