Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Politics Of: The Newsroom Season 2

The Newsroom, Arron Sorkin's HBO drama, enters its second season. The first part will review the show--the second will do the politics (and have spoilers).

The Newsroom
We're now five shows into our return to Atlantis Cable News and their lovable band of misfit reporters who try to always get the story right while navigating their complex love affairs and related personal tragedies. The Newsroom rests heavily on the charisma of its cast--but with Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Sam Watterson, and others, it has sufficient star-power to hold up.

The show is Sorkin's forum for commentary about current events--current to 2012, anyway, which is where the show presently takes place (it runs a few months or years behind reality so that Sorkin doesn't have to make up fake news. This is genius). In order to have it not just be a left-wing history lesson (Sorkin's politics are no secret) he splices in a bunch of dramatics and has characters with a variety of quirks rebound off each other to create sparks.

For some people this works--others find it insufferable, preachy, and contrived. I will come down on the side of saying it works so long as (a) you can handle Sorkin's vision of "cute" (which Emily Mortimer and Allison Pill nail each episode) and (b) you are okay with unrealistically witty dialog (if you don't like that, though, you don't like Joss Wheedon and you are dead to me).

The show gets the feel of New York, a massive media empire, and reporting right--or close enough to right that I can't tell the difference. There are plenty of people who will say they got X or Y wrong but I suspect, for TV, it's close enough.

I think the first season came through pretty smoothly and the second, while more of the same, is a little bumpier with it's framing device: it opens, more or less, in the present with various cast members talking to lawyers about some undisclosed disaster. Each show is then framed as a bit of a look-back as the disastrous story slowly unfolded. This isn't a bad idea (it builds tension)--but we are pretty sure that The Newsroom won't make up news and so, therefore, the story they are chasing either can't be true or ... or what? Does Sorkin pull an Inglorious Basterds and "kill Hitler"? I doubt it.

I find The Newsroom charming and entertaining. It isn't realistic and its politics are not as 'reality-based' as it thinks they are. That's okay: it's witty, attractive, and the cast is stellar. I'll recommend The Newsroom Season 2 to anyone who liked Season 1!

Let's do the politics!

The Politics Of The Newsroom
In the write up of the first season I noted that Jeff Daniel's character is a liberal idea of what a conservative should be like (horrified by the Tea Party, horrified by Michelle Bachmann, etc.) That's how they cast Jeff Daniels--and he has his showdown with the right at the end where he calls the Tea Party the American Taliban.

They take it personally. ACN personnel  get frozen out of important Washington meetings, the Romney campaign won't let one of their reporters on the campaign bus, and they denounce Daniel's character on the floor of the House! Scandalous. I read right-wing blogs hooting at the idea that the media could be prosecuted by Republicans--and I have to say I kind of agree.

The RNC is wrong to think that the Primary debates were damaging because they were held by major (leftwing) media outlets--they were damaging because of the candidates--but they are not wrong to think that, for example, the second presidential debate would have gone differently if Rush Limbaugh had been moderating instead of Candy Crawley. The media likes a good story and the clown-car primary was a good story. But let's not forget that George Stephanopolus asking Romney about Santorum's contraception issues would not have happened on Fox.

The main story-line this season is about Operation Genoa--a prisoner extraction where, allegedly, US forces used Sarin gas on a Pakistani village where a Marine was about to be "sold to the Taliban for beheading." The story comes together from a number of sources--but, as it would be an administration-ending war crime--we have to assume it won't turn out to be real.

I suspect that the Genoa story is The Newsroom's take on all the 'phony scandals'--they have an anti-Obama scandal of their own that looks real but, eventually, will turn out to be a black-ops CIA mission gone bad--or, no wait: will turn out to be totally untrue. But I'm not sure: about half way through it certainly does look like they're on to something.

The show's portrayal of the Romney Team (they have no platform--but say they do) and the Zimmerman Edit (in The Newsroom ACN makes the mistake due to time constraints and alcohol--and they issue a retraction immediately) make it clear that this is a left-wing take on actual events (Romney took some time to get his plan out there--but he did--all 57 points of it or whatever--and there's little evidence that NBC's edit was pure human error ... and there was no instant retraction).

The Newsroom is Sorkin's political vehicle to be sure--but unless he knows what happened in the NBC newsroom where the Zimmerman 911 tape was edited I think that having sympathetic characters reproduce the exact mistake for understandable reasons goes beyond showing how a "perfect news-team" would act (indeed, this is about the only mistake Team News Night ever makes) and into advocacy territory.

It's certainly possible that what happened on the small screen is what happened in real life--but I see no evidence of that anywhere and I'm dubious that Sorkin has done an investigation of the actual event that would make the Newsroom team proud.

In short the politics of Season 2, unless Sorkin pulls a surprise maneuver and has the scandal break and damage the administration, are quite liberal. Having only made it to around April 2012, we'll see what he makes of the Republican primaries--but I'd be surprised if it isn't vicious.

Ultimately, though, Newsroom thrives on its characters, their actors, and the drama. I'm sure for some people the politics are a huge plus--and for others they make the show a non-starter--but so long as you know what you're in for, you should be able tell if you should keep watching.

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