HBO's 'Newsroom' Distorts Weinergate, Vilifies Woman Who Came Forward

The pro-Obama super PAC known as HBO aired its latest advertisement Sunday in an hour-long spot called “The Newsroom: Season 1, Episode 8.”

The ad tackles the Weinergate scandal as part of a parable about the decline of journalistic standards, in which the media is prevented from covering urgent (and Obama-friendly) news by the pressure to compete with more tabloid-friendly networks (i.e. Fox News).

Sorkin also weaves in a side plot about how anti-terror wiretapping has made post-9/11 America like the Soviet Union under Stalin, but that’s a subject for another day.

Sorkin gets almost everything about Weinergate wrong, and even goes after the woman who came forward to tell her story because, as she stated at the time, she had learned that “Rep. Weiner had hired an investigating firm to go through all of his files,” and she worried that her privacy would be compromised.

At the time, Andrew Breitbart warned the media not to “start going after the girls.” But Sorkin does--slandering a young woman to suit his polemical purposes.

In Sorkin’s retelling, the Weinergate saga begins within the open-plan offices of a mainstream media network, where a journalist--gasp!--is reading a conservative blog:

Harper: Are you looking at BigGovernment.com?

Brenner: Yeah.

Harper: Don’t make me write that you’re using Andrew Breitbart to research this show! 

Brenner: No... 

Brenner then explains that he is preparing a mock Republican debate that will involve Michele Bachmann, and he is using BigGovernment.com as a source on her. (There are numerous anti-Bachmann digs throughout the episode, including a long monologue against Bachmann’s religious beliefs that is presented as the height of erudition.)

It is while researching Bachmann that the journalists stumble across the Weinergate story. It’s a bit of a stretch to blame Bachmann for Weinergate--and that is only the beginning of Sorkin’s “creative license” with the story.

Here are a few other errors:

  1. Sorkin treats Weinergate as if it were a huge compromise of journalistic standards. Actually, the only reason Weinergate became as big as it did was because Weiner went after the press, calling one reporter a “jackass”--the turning point in the whole affair. Weiner then did “the full Ginsburg,” summoning each network for sit-down interviews in which he lied and suggested others, possibly Andrew Breitbart, had hacked his account.
  2. The story broke at Big Journalism, not at Big Government, as Sorkin suggests.
  3. Sorkin jumps straight from Weiner’s tweet to his interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, as if the mainstream media had picked up the story right away. In fact, the story broke on Friday, May 27, and it was not until Wednesday, June 1, that Blitzer sat down with Weiner. Also it was CNN’s Dana Bash, not Blitzer, who was the first mainstream media journalist to take the story--and Weiner’s false allegations about a hacking--seriously.
  4. In Sorkin's version, the conservative network executive makes a decision to cover the Weiner story as a balance to negative stories about the Tea Party and the debt ceiling debate (which did not actually take place until several weeks later--and, naturally, Sorkin slanders the Tea Party, accusing it of campaigning actively for the country to default on its debt). In reality, it was Weiner, and not the media itself, who tried to balance his scandal with the debt ceiling issue, which had not yet become the fevered battle that it would become later in the summer.
  5. Sorkin re-enacts the woman’s decision to come forward with her story as if she were a babbling idiot eager to spill the goods. As one of the few people who actually talked to her, I can say with certainty that the opposite was true. In fact, it took more than a week for her to come forward--and she had been considering it well before Weiner sent his tweet, as Andrew Breitbart makes clear in the second edition of Righteous Indignation.
  6. The woman, “Sandy,” is also portrayed as a wily, experienced gold-digger and publicity hound whose first act is to provide the network with a receipt for the cab she took to get there. (Later, she asks an intern to bring her a decaffeinated latte, and is refused.) When she is asked why she is coming forward, she says: “Because the world needs to know what kind of guy he is.” Sorkin also suggests that “Sandy” is jealous of the other women who Weiner had contacted. “Sandy” also has an agent (the real woman did not), and is “doing Access Hollywood, ET and Fox” before appearing on the news. The real woman did not have an agent and did not appear on other channels, before or after ABC News.
  7. Sorkin portrays the interview with the woman as something the network did not want to do (so much so that the power fails as the interview starts). I can’t speak for ABC News, but it is clear that senior correspondent Chris Cuomo took the story seriously--not as a sex scandal but as a story about a politician deceiving the press and the public. 

Those are just some of the distortions--and this is only part 1. Tune in next week, when Sorkin will have succeeded in boosting his show's ratings by at least a few Breitbart editors.

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