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There's no question that Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter of such movies as A Few Good Men and The Social Network and creator of such television shows as The West Wing and the criminally under-appreciated Sports Night, is a gifted writer. Every work to come from his keyboard has included a lineup of likeable, multi-faceted characters; smart, rapid-fire dialogue; and wry wit. His latest creation, the HBO drama The Newsroom, is no exception.
The problem is Sorkin also happens to be an unabashedly left-wing writer who doesn't seem to credit anyone on the other side of the aisle with an intelligence to match his own. And what was once a quirk-the occasional hyper-eloquent political speech that leaves a conservative character stunned into silence-is now becoming a hallmark caricature.
At no point is this more clearly illustrated than in The Newsroom's premiere episode when an earnest executive producer (Emily Mortimer) tries to inspire a jaded but popular network anchor (Jeff Daniels) to greater journalistic integrity with the following speech: "Is government an instrument of good or is it every man for himself? Is there something bigger we want to reach for or is self-interest our basic resting pulse? You and I have a chance to be among the few people framing that debate."
Where to begin with this oration? To start with, it's hard to tell if Sorkin is purposely misrepresenting conservative ideas or if he really doesn't understand them. I have met a Randian or two who might define conservatism by such stark egotism, but exponentially more would say that they simply believe churches and private charities are capable of meeting the needs of the poor, addicted, and aged in ways government never can. And they would argue that when the state assumes such roles monolithically it actually leads to a colder, every-man-for-himself nation.
But the misrepresentation maneuver is so common, it hardly merits comment anymore. More mind-boggling is that last line. It's laughably myopic that in a show issuing a call for a return to real journalism, Sorkin misses the fact that technology has already allowed exactly that, and that it is no longer possible for only a few to frame the debate.
In fact, what Sorkin seems to be yearning for is an era in which much less journalism was taking place because only a handful of gatekeepers decided what was news and how it should be presented. Hard, investigative journalism is being done-and it's being done by more people than ever before, with a wider audience than ever before, thanks to the advent of the cell-phone camera and the internet. The fourth estate now investigates itself-leading often to ever-greater accuracy at ever-greater speeds. Not to acknowledge this in the context he's set up smacks of not just wistfulness but elitism, a yearning for the good old days when the peasants knew their place and left the news reporting to the big boys in their brilliantly lit New York towers.
Still, there's no getting around Sorkin's talent, and it is possible to enjoy The Newsroom even if the wool you've been dyed in is redder than red-state red. When they're not exchanging liberal platitudes, Daniels and Mortimer invest their rat-tat-tat screwball dialogue with crackling chemistry. And Sam Waterston as an ex-Marine network executive is worth the price of admission alone. Explicit sex and extreme violence have become so ubiquitous in cable programming, it's a sad sort of recommendation to say that the only objectionable content in the first episode of The Newsroom is the language. Lose a few ostentatiously placed f-bombs, and there's no reason it couldn't have aired on any broadcast network.
Then, if Sorkin will only challenge himself to a little oppositional research-say, some one-on-one time with Charles Krauthammer or Thomas Sowell-he may have a hit even the Tea Partiers he maligns will watch. At least then, when he gives his liberal hero the last word, it won't have been the only word.