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The Morning After: Follow-Up Story

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Brief spoilers for last night’s The Newsroom below:

Because I have already been very critical of The Newsroom, last night’s episode was the last of which I saw before writing my original review, let me kick this post off by mentioning one thing I liked about “I’ll Try to Fix You.”

The last few minutes, in which the News Night staff resisted pressure to prematurely call Gabrielle Giffords dead, illustrated a very worthwhile point about a real problem: rushing to be first (or at least to catch up) rather than to be right, as we saw in the blown CNN and Fox News calls on the Supreme Court health care ruling. What’s more, it did it without relying on deus ex machinas like the pilot’s BP story did. No one needed to have a friend or relative (or both) placed with inside info—it only took discipline and principle to wait for sufficient confirmation. And the scene, like the pilot, showed that this drama is most compelling when the characters are doing their jobs, not talking about them.

But as I said in my initial review, while The Newsroom makes a lot of worthy points as a media-criticism op-ed, that makes it no better as a drama. (Especially when it continually subordinates its drama to its message.) My agreeing with a show doesn’t make it a better drama. Having a message “that people need to hear”—almost invariably, people other than the person saying that, who already agrees with said message—is not an excuse for didacticism, stacking the deck, writing arguments for yourself to win, creating characters who are little more than bottles for your messages. It’s not a reason to overlook slipshod structure—only the most glaring example of which was flashing back to episode 3 in episode 4. And it’s certainly not a good reason for patronizing depictions of women—which, woo God, take your pick in this episode. They might as well change News Night’s title to “‘Quiet, Honey, a Man Is Talking,’ with Will McAvoy.”

But I’ve said my piece already at length; we’re now at the point where you’ve seen as much as I saw of The Newsroom before reviewing it, so I’m curious to hear what you think of it now. If you still love it at this point, we simply disagree, and that’s fine. But I’m especially curious if there’s anyone out there who likes the show on grounds that don’t depend on agreeing with its messages. Most of the defenses of the show I’ve read have boiled down to: “Maybe it has such-and-such weakness, but we need The Newsroom because look at what the media did on such-and-such story last week.”

Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing was full of messages too, but it had enough richness of characterization and expansiveness of spirit that I could see how someone could disagree with its characters’ politics and still love it. (That has to have been the case; it needed fans of all political stripes to have been a top-ten hit on broadcast TV.) The Newsroom, to me, is so strident and outraged that I don’t think there’s room to disagree with it and feel like it wants you there.

But I’m a journalist—I could be wrong! Anyone want to make the case for The Newsroom strictly as a drama?