This Week's 'Newsroom': Attacking Koch Brothers, Gov. Walker and Citizens United Case

This week Aaron Sorkin fired the entire writing staff from Season 1 of "The Newsroom," save his ex-girlfriend Corinne Kinsbury. The execrable writing for this show is nowhere near Sorkin’s well deserved reputation for brilliant dialogue and has been wasting some good acting (Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston,Dev Patel) and doing no favors for some poor acting (Alison Pill, Thomas Sadoski).

Sorkin either had to clean house or start writing on “cocaine fueled binges” again.

Perhaps it was last week’s ludicrous feel-good ending or perhaps Sorkin just took one look at the following speech from this week’s episode and fired everyone in a fit of rage.

Last night's episode, dubbed "Amen," covered the uprisings in Cairo during which a courageous on scene reporter for ACN is savagely beaten by protestors. But back in the newsroom, there were three other injuries sustained, all of them self inflicted and supremely idiotic.

Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) inexplicably ran full speed into a glass door – twice. Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) intentionally ran into a locked wooden door trying to break it open. Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) punched a monitor showing a clip of Rush Limbaugh and broke his hand.

In a fiery speech anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) delivers to gossip columnist Nina Howard extolling the hardships and sacrifice of “real” journalists, McAvoy lumps two of these newsroom injuries in with the severe beating suffered by his Cairo reporter. The two door injuries had seemingly been thrown into the show for comic relief, but McAvoy delivers this intense speech with a perfectly straight face:

“I got a guy on my staff who got hit in the head with a glass door Thursday. His forehead wouldn’t stop bleeding but he wouldn’t go to a doctor ‘cause I got another guy who got beat upcovering Cairo. And the first guy wouldn’t see a doctor until the second guy saw a doctor. I’ve got a producer who ran into a locked door ‘cause he felt responsible for the second guy. I’ve got an 18 year old kid risking his life half way around the world and the AP who sent him there hasn’t slept in three days. I’ve got twenty-somethings who care about teachers in Wisconsin. I’ve got a grown woman who has to subtract with her fingers staying up all night trying to learn economics from a PhD who could be making twenty times the money three miles downtown. They’re journalists.”

Yeah…’cause it’s REAL up there in the newsroom, you feel me? It’s a war zone on the 11th floor, and there’s hazards out here like glass doors and wooden doors ain’t nobody else got to deal with.

Somedays after work Tucker Carlson and I meet up with Jake Tapper at an old bar and show off scars from old stapler misfires and coffee spills – reminders of close calls long ago. Then Tucker tells us the story of how stud Daily Caller reporter Matthew Boyle got so angry seeing Eric Holder dealing guns and refusing to say Brian Terry’s name that he chopped a table in half with his hand, injuring himself and three interns. “BYAH!” ‘Cause that shows he’s serious, and that’s what it takes to deliver the news.

How this schlock ever got past an entire team of writers is beyond me. It is emblematic of Sorkin’s overwrought efforts throughout the series to squeeze water from a stone to contrive poignant moments. This could have easily been a very powerful speech affirming the noblest side of journalism.

That said, there were moments in "The Newsroom's" fifth episode to like, especially for the journalists watching. Like the entire series but even more so than previous episodes, it gently caresses the erogenous zones of journalists in a Bill Clinton “I feel your pain” sort of way while resoundingly affirming their duty to aggressively slant the news.

We begin in the middle of a newscast with McAvoy speaking with ACN correspondent Elliot Hirsch live from his apartment in Cairo. Hirsch is an American, and confines himself to his apartment for safety reasons. During the broadcast, producers barge in with breaking news of another protest against oppression in Wisconsin, which they describe in predictable terms. Governor Walker is trying to balance the budget by busting unions, especially teachers unions, and making a “shocking” threat to call up the National Guard, as McAvoy angrily reports.

In a conference meeting, producers must figure out how to find a local Egyptian reporter that can do what an American like Hirsch cannot and move freely throughout Cairo. Maggie Jordan tells us she could have been a doctor. Suddenly Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) pulls McAvoy and Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) out of the meeting to consult privately. Skinner informs us a tabloid story is coming about MacHale’s boyfriend Wade Campbell (Jon Tenney) running for Anthony Weiner’s congressional seat somewhat to her surprise.

“Anthony Weiner’s keeping Anthony Weiner’s seat,” MacHale responds.

“Not if he runs for mayor,” replies McAvoy.

The show is currently in February 2011, so Weiner has not yet flashed the world, and it is only a coincidence that rumors of Weiner running for Mayor have surfaced recently in the real world.

NewsNight has had Campbell on air five times in the last six weeks, creating the appearance MacHale is trying to get her boyfriend elected to congress and an apparent ethical lapse.

Back in the conference room, the team learns Hirsch was severely injured by a mob after leaving his hotel room trying to cover the revolution. They decide to take a chance on Kahlid Salim, an eighteen-year old Egyptian video blogger that goes by the acronym “Amen,” Egyptian for “the hidden one.”

To advocate on behalf of hiring him, Neal gives a stirring speech recounting his journey into journalism and how it compared with Salim’s. They are both internet idealists. They are both elder brothers. And they were both the children of mechanics who, once they got their first taste of journalism, knew they would never be able to do anything else. The scene was inspiring and undoubtedly resonated with all of the journalists watching.

As is always their way, McAvoy and his producers spend much of the episode chasing down conspiracies of the Koch Brothers vast influence. Not only are they behind the developments in Wisconsin, but the team scours through all of their tangential connections to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, even asserting Virginia Thomas’ years working for the Heritage Foundation, which receives money from the Kochs, from 2003 to 2007 should have forced Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself. Because the Kochs also contribute to different organizations that filed amicus briefs in Citizens United, you see.

Thomas and Scalia should also recuse themselves because they have given speeches for non profits to which the Kochs contribute as well. You see? Only the way Harper describes it is that they were “frequent guests of the Kochs.” McAvoy falsely asserts Citizens United allows for unlimited corporate donations to any political candidate and reveals the Koch’s dastardly plan to “rig the game” by simultaneously allowing corporate spending while eliminating union spending by destroying unions themselves. So somehow the Koch’s have exclusive ownership of the Citizens United decision even though as individuals, not corporations, the Koch’s political spending would be entirely unaffected by Citizens United, now wouldn’t it? Some really serious journalism.

After learning “Amen” seems to have gone missing, Neal punches through a monitor showing the portion of this clip of Limbaugh joking about NYT reporters being detained in Egypt.

Intermittently throughout the show, economics reporter Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) gives Mackenzie an economics lesson to prepare her for a panel on economics, about which she knows nothing.

Sorkin uses this entire sequence to advocate for the reinstitution of the of Glass Steagall act. Sabbith attributes all of America’s economic success in the latter half of the 20th century to its institution and the subsequent economic struggles to its repeal in 1999 by Bill Clinton.

Sorkin attempts to end every episode on a dramatic (generally melodramatic), emotional high note, and while implausible and cheesy, this one was still satisfying.

ACN corporate legal wouldn't wire money to get “Amen” released because they refused to take legal responsibility for a freelancer. McAvoy wires the money out of his own pocket. When Mackenzie learns about McAvoy’s generous act, she and the producers stage a scene to reimburse him by recreating the “jersey scene” from the movie "Rudy."

All ofthe producers form a long line, entering McAvoy’s office one at a time and placing a check on his desk reimbursing him for a portion of the money he wired to free Khalid.

A note from your humble Big Hollywood reporter:

The fifth episode took us to February 14, 2011, Valentines Day. Since "Newsroom" episodes seem to cover roughly a month each, it occurred to me that the NPR sting I did with Shaughn Adeleye last year, which debuted March 8, 2011 and dominated the news for about a week, may well show up in the next couple episodes.

I certainly never considered I might actually be a part of the show I’ve been critiquing. I can’t imagine how they could ignore that story completely, and they won’t have very good things to say about it. I doubt it will affect my opinions on the show regardless. Perhaps it will make things interesting, though!


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