I can’t watch the news anymore. I haven’t been able to in a long time, really. It’s not that I want to be ignorant, it’s just so obnoxiously … empty, that I get angry and think about hurting myself. CNN gleefully reports on the love lives of the Kardashians. Fox News turns every single story into an Obama hate-fest. MSNBC rides fickle on whether it wants to deliver every story sarcastically or line up for White House love bus. Headline News gives neither of the things its name advertises. And the network TV news shows refuse to take a position on anything, delivering each byline with dead-eyed monotony.
Shockingly, though, they’re all reporting on the exact same things. There’s no diversity of topics, it’s all the same news, delivered through a filter of pro-left, pro-right, obnoxiously arrogant, or blissfully uncaring. At least if a single station delivered a variety of filters, they might for a single moment seem credible, but no, it’s always the same story every time.
Recently, Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” debuted on HBO. I’ve been watching it, and it’s just as disgusting at times. It comes across as the exaggeratedly heroic life story of a nightly news anchor whose only real risk taking is that he might be unemployed and forced to live on the millions of dollars wealth he’s acquired. The show wants to make a big deal about every little thing he does but refuses to acknowledge the reality that cable news just isn’t relevant. He’s not changing the world, he’s just providing a new filter. If people don’t like it, they change channels and they can get the filter that aligns with their preconceptions.
This is a huge shame, however, because behind the monolithic, chest thumping statue of Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) lies a compelling story about a very not-rich production staff that are torn between their desires to remain employed while believing that there should be another option in news reporting. Or… rather, that’s how it should be. Instead it’s about how they are all fawning over each other in all consuming crushes in a heteronormative manner.
The first episode made a good go at how these people should be acting – rushing around pursuing leads on stories and trying to get the truth before bureaucracy shuts down all avenues and begins delivering the company line. Unfortunately, since then, it’s been about rushing around behind the scenes and being neurotic about each other on-screen. This turns out to be necessary because they’re reporting on news stories that we already know about.
The show is unapologetically set in 2010, and presents news stories that we remember from 2010, because they were insanely high profile and saturated the news for months. The show’s line is that those stories would have been reported “right” if only we had a news program that focused on truth instead of sensationalism. Instead, it comes across like a person from 2012 received a time machine and thought that the best way to improve upon the world would be to go back in time and tell journalists which stories were going to be big before anyone realized.
There is a reason why police procedurals do “ripped from the headlines” and not “copied down from yesterday’s news”. It’s because when you actually do replicate what happened in real life, it comes across heavily as Monday morning quarterbacking. Hindsight gives these characters WAY more perspective than could have been available at the time the crisis happened and it feels ‘smug’ the way they do what everyone wishes they had done if they could have done it over again.
The show lacks the pride that Sorkin showed in The West Wing where he took original – but similar – events and let them play out in an organic manner. Instead, The Newsroom is almost like awful Self-Insertion fanfiction, where the author’s avatar gets to parade around being an asshole but nobody calls him on it because he’s always right in the end.
Yes, there are token challenges for the characters to face, but they all just seem so superficial in the end. There is an ongoing storyline about how the show is threatened with cancellation for the way it’s attacking deep-pocketed Republicans, but really, how much risk of that is there? There is a much greater risk that The Newsroom will be cancelled than the fictional show IN the Newsroom getting cancelled.
I really want to enjoy this show, but I’m having a hard time looking past its flaws. For the sake of West Wing, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – both of which were excellent shows in my opinion – I will continue watching. But things need to improve or even loyalty won’t be enough for me to keep returning week after week.