ABC News’s Jake Tapper is one of the good guys, one of the few reporters I wish I could asterisk every time I use the term “corrupt media” — a term I use about sixty times a day.
Tapper not only participated (in a small advisory way) in the creation of Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO drama “Newsroom,” but he’s an obvious Sorkin fan who found himself pretty disappointed by the end result.
Tapper’s full review is well worth a read, but the highlight is how Tapper brilliantly exposes Hollywood’s tired and lazy partisan ploy of using Republican characters to further a left-wing agenda.
The emphasis is mine:
SORKIN HAS a well-known penchant for projecting his political fantasies onto his protagonists: See the crusading presidents Andrew Shepherd (fromThe American President) and Jed Bartlet (of “The West Wing”). McAvoy (who is played by Jeff Daniels) is the journalistic equivalent, a messiah sent to save broadcast news.
The series begins with McAvoy’s conversion from cynical hack to truth-telling idealist. We first meet him as part of a Northwestern University panel where he’s pilloried for his passionless impartiality. “You’re the Jay Leno of news anchors,” he’s told. “You’re popular because you don’t offend anyone.” Further goaded by his old-school, bourbon-soaked boss at the (fictional) ACN cable network, Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston), and his new executive producer, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer)–with whom he has a messy romantic past–McAvoy experiences an epiphany. He goes on air and apologizes to the public for having pursued unimportant stories in pursuit of ratings. He will now only report on what is serious and real. He will dedicate himself to protecting civic virtue.
But that prompts the question: protect it from what? This is where Sorkin’s high-minded critique falls flat. McAvoy sanctimoniously laments the deterioration of public discourse and the news media’s complicity in it. But if that is the problem, his subsequent actions reveal a commitment to a uniformly partisan solution. McAvoy–and, by extension, Sorkin–preach political selflessness, but they practice pure partisanship; they extol the Fourth Estate’s democratic duty, but they believe that responsibility consists mostly of criticizing Republicans. This is done through the oldest trick in the book for a Hollywood liberal: by having McAvoy be a “sane Republican” who looks at his party with sadness and anger.
The fact, then, that the show begins in 2010–at the height of the Tea Party’s fervor–is no accident; it’s what enables the show’s didacticism. Sorkin’s intent is to show how events of recent memory could have been covered better by the media if journalists had only had the courage.
For the record, I agree with Tapper. Sorkin is a brilliant writer. His “American President” earned a place in my Top 25 Left-Wing Films and there’s was no question Sorkin deserved an Oscar for his undeniably superb work on “The Social Network.”
Sorkin is, though, a thoroughly ugly individual who, according to the “Newsroom” reviews I’ve read, is probably starting to believe a bit too much in his own press.
It takes a very special skill to put across a political point without resorting to heavy-handed, spell-breaking preaching, a skill I don’t Sorkin’s ever truly mastered. But his overall brilliance has always covered that flaw.
HBO and critics will probably give Sorkin time to retool. He’s an important brand among leftists and has the skill to turn this around.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC