Monday, July 23, 2012

How HBO's The Newsroom Pimped Out Gabby Giffords

I didn't hate the first three episodes of HBO's new series, The Newsroom. I thought that it lacked subtlety and the creator/writer's political agenda outshined the characters and the story itself. Oddly enough, I mostly agree with their political stance, yet I was turned off by it because it's so apparent on a show that's aiming to be non-biased. The show was somewhat entertaining, though.

The Newsroom focuses on Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, a tv news anchor who suffers an emotional breakdown on air. The first episode shows Will making a passionate speech about the state of America and the state of politics, condemning both Republicans and Democrats. Of course, most of the things he mentions are typical Democrat gripes (poor education, poor health care, corporate interference in politics, etc.).

After his meltdown and a hiatus from the airwaves, Will returns. He gets an entirely new news team and he promises to return to a time when newsmen were objective truth speakers. They are going to do what no other tv news show is currently doing in this divisive political landscape. However, if you are familiar with reality, you'll notice that Will doesn't do or say anything Jon Stewart hasn't been saying for the last decade, albeit with a lot less humor. In one episode, Will takes on the tea party. He maintains his claim that he is a "true" Republican, and that is why he's so angry with the tea partiers for hijacking his party; yet in reality, any news anchors calling out the tea party were always on left-leaning networks. He makes complaints that we in 2012 can clearly see are valid, but in 2010, when the show is supposed to take place, Republicans were largely quiet about the tea party. Democratic-leaning news agencies were happy to paint the teabaggers as the lunatic fringe that they are, but more conservative media outlets never questioned the validity of the tea party.

That's my biggest gripe with the show. It is about a news team that seeks out the truth and says things that other news organizations are too afraid or stupid or too politically connected to say; however, Aaron Sorkin, the creator of the show, decided to base the series in the recent past, giving the writers (and therefore the characters) the benefit of hindsight. So when the Deepwell Horizon rig exploded, Will's team was smart enough to know that it would turn into something huge and they were the first to report about the explosion and the ongoing spill. Will and his news team are finally validated by the public and the network executives.

All of this was forgivable, though. The political agenda was obvious, but at least it was similar to my way of thinking. It was a little contrived and cheesy, but it was semi-entertaining because of the personal story-lines (unfortunately, those have become unbearable, too). My biggest problem was that the audience is asked to hold this news team up on a high horse for getting these stories right, yet the show is in the past, so the writers have the benefit of knowing what will happen. If the creators and writers wanted to show how a news agency can be honest and successful in a divided political landscape, they should have stayed in the present, or even the future; it's easy to say what people should have done when we all know how things end up. Show me a new or current situation and how this "Last News Team With Integrity" handles it, then I'll be more impressed.

Again, all of this was forgivable, until the episode, "I'll Fix You." The first 50 minutes was the typical The Newsroom, with Will and his ex-lover/executive producer arguing about their relationship and the other news team members embroiled in some personal clashes of their own. Will gives a long lesson on gun control to a date, and a long diatribe on air about the Republican belief that Obama is tightening restrictions on guns (he's not). There's no bigger gun control advocate than me and even I thought the didacticism was too much. A whole bunch of nothing else happens until the last ten minutes. While in a meeting, one of the news team members sees a breaking story online and tells Will and the executive producer. Their faces become very serious and everyone jumps to action. We finally hear what happened. There's been a shooting in Tucson, Arizona.

The solemn music starts. Everyone is busy making calls and checking sources online. They are going to mae a breaking news announcement.

At this point I was actually very intrigued. I was upset they were using a Coldplay song (Coldplay?!?!) but I may have gotten a little emotional. Anything involving Congresswoman Gabby Giffords gets to me. I wanted to write a blog about her a while back but every time I tried I needed to stop and gather myself. She is an incredible woman and the tragedy that killed 6 people and nearly killed her still resonates with me today. When she returned to the Congress floor the first time after the event, it was one of the rare moments when politicians of every stripe came together in a positive way. Tragedy often unites people, but her courage and conviction after the tragedy added a whole other element. She is truly an American hero who has inspired countless people, and who is still struggling to return to 100% health.

And Aaron Fucking Sorkin used her tragedy as a plot device to further glorify Will McAvoy and his news team as the only honest, sensitive, and intelligent news source on television.

I realize other movies have used real life tragedies as plot devices, and The Newsroom may not even be the worst offender, but it really rubbed me the wrong way. They focused on Giffords in particular, so it was a very personal story, which makes it even more invasive. It was so conniving; soon after we learn about the shooting, the question of whether or not Giffords was alive became the focus. One other news agency had already reported her as dead, but they had no real source. Will's news team wants to wait until they have a second source for validity. The network doesn't want them to wait; they can't get scooped by the other major news agencies.

Three other news agencies have now reported that Giffords has died, yet they are all basing it on the first report. Will's executive producer wants to wait. The network people are getting angry. Will may never work again if he doesn't report on her death immediately. What is he waiting for? The network guy demands that he reports on her death. Will defers to his news team, including Don, the show's former executive producer. Don says they should wait. "This is a human being" he says, or something equally outrageously corny. The network guy's head almost explodes, and Will reports that there is no word on Gabby Gifford's status. Soon enough, a source confirms that she is still alive. Will is the first (and only) news source to accurately report on her condition. They had trust in themselves and hope for a fellow human being and it paid off. They reported from the heart, and they were right.

As they cut to commercial, Will cheers, tells the guy from Law and Order that he's "not fucking around anymore", excitedly congratulates Don on being a "real news man", and when his executive producer/ex-girlfriend passionately takes fault for "fucking everything up", Will says everything will be all right. They did it. They have won the news.

And six people died and Gabby Giffords still struggles to speak and walk properly, all so some asshole named Aaron Sorkin could use them as a plot device to garner cheap emotions in his shitty television series a year later.

Will McAvoy isn't some savior of truth in reporting. He's a mouthpiece for assface Aaron Sorkin to show the world how smart, honest, integral people would have reported the news. Of course the Deepwell Horizon was going to turn into the biggest environmental disaster in history; of course the tea party is just a bunch of lunatics who vote against their own interests; and of course Gabby Giffords was going to survive and become an inspiration for the nation. Anyone who didn't believe that or report on it as it was happening was clearly a moron.

Or they didn't have the benefit of hindsight. I agree that American news agencies do a horrendous job when it comes to politics, but what they can't do is report on the past to make themselves appear intellectually superior.

Only Will McAvoy can do that. But I'm not gonna watch him do it anymore. Maybe members of the news media will watch and gain something from the lessons espoused in The Newsroom, but judging by recent events, I doubt it.

Maybe Sorkin was trying to recapture that inspiration and emotion we all felt as we learned that Gabby Giffords would survive. But if you want to really recapture that, watch some interviews with Gabby, read this article, or watch this video where Congress welcomes her back.

Real inspiration, real emotion. Not some bullshit drama leeching off real life events and heroes.

Fuck The Newsroom and fuck its creator, scumsucker Aaron Sorkin.

Keep getting better, Gabby.

I Love You All (Except you, Aaron Sorkin)...Class Dismissed.


Anonymous said...

This is a terrific post, but may I recommend that you consider a metaphor other than "head explodes" given the context :(

Prof.Thug. said...

good point...this is why i need an editor.
thanks for the compliment.