Trying to Tolerate The Newsroom, Week Six

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 20 2013 4:35 AM

Trying to Tolerate The Newsroom, Week Six

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If you can't make good use of Stephen Root, there's something wrong with your show.

Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images

LONDON—I use the dateline largely to explain why it took a while to coordinate a gang-watch of the sixth episode of The Newsroom, Season Two. Ana Marie Cox, the Guardian columnist and author who now lives in St. Paul, Minn., was separated from me by half a continent, an ocean, and six hours of time difference. But we got it done, and tolerated "One Step Too Many," a momentum-building episode before the resolution of the "Genoa" storyline that has gripped America.

Ana Marie Cox: So I have a confession: I had been avoiding watching this season. I knew it would just make me angry, which I guess is the point of hate-watching. But I also kind of dreaded the prospect of being uncontrollably annoyed and having to resort to Twitter, but then I did want to do this for you, so ...

Dave Weigel: Did you catch up? It's fine if you didn't!

AMC: Well, I watched the first two episodes, which turned out to be all I really needed. I probably missed getting annoyed about the Romney bus storyline. Which might have been fun/awful/awful fun, given that I was on the Romney bus in 2008 and could feel righteous about calling bullshit.

DW: Your curated viewing of the show is just fine for our purposes. Why did you fear it'd make you angry? That might be a redundant question in this space.

AMC: I can give you my relatively fresh-eyed indignation about the women on the show. THEY ARE STILL PORTRAYED AS EMOTIONAL BASKET CASES. I just wanted to set a limit on how much negativity there is in my life at once. I will have to not watch Fox News for a while or something so that it evens out.

But, yes, where to begin? These are things that annoyed me the most: 1) the hamfisted editing of the Marine general interview (criminal waste of Stephen Root), 2) the slut-shaming of Maggie (who I hate as character but still), 3) that the show still takes place in a universe of humans I don't recognize

DW: They did seem to put Stephen Root on Quaaludes—not sure why they needed him if the goal was total defeat and low energy. But, as we saw in the last episode, the crew is religious about not editing tape to remove context. They got to relive and fix the NBC News edit of the George Zimmerman tape—the "he's black" bit—but had Neal realize the mistake and save the day.

AMC: OH NEAL.

DW: So, knowing that—as if we didn't already know that editing tape to remove context is a bad idea—Jerry faking the clip is the most villainous, loaded action we can imagine from a character who's always had something of the night about him.

AMC: Well, it is pretty villainous and loaded! I was almost more offended by how BADLY edited it was.

DW: I wonder if the live basketball game in the back of the shot will come into play somehow. Hint, hint!

AMC: I'm embarrassed to admit I missed that. Do we have a designated sports fan in the group? I'm guessing Fantasy Football Commissioner Sloan will pipe up. In any case, I'm just glad the Newsroom crew will finally get an event to express righteous indignation over. They've been mired in moral gray areas and subtleties for so long. (I just noticed that Twitter has spawned a "Will McAvoyUK". ugh.) Just for you, I guess!

DW: Nice of them! I don't think a show that lionizes the Way Media Used to Be would do as well here. Anyway, we can see the end of the Genoa plot that will give us our Moral Lesson this season. The other lesson, as you point out, is that Women Be Crazy.

AMC: I can't even begin. I did really genuinely love Drunk Paulite MTV Correspondent (I guess that's how I begin.) She felt the most genuine! I have met her, I feel like. Drunk Paulite MTV Correspondent (Audrey?) was opinionated! Knew what she wanted! Went for it! Was not embarrassed by her opinions! Though the show seemed to imply that, like every other woman on the show, she was emotionally all over the place and unprofessional (bc she was emotionally all over the place, also drunk). Also copious drinking on the campaign trail is one thing the show gets 100 percent correctly.

DW: How campaign trail journalism is a fairly steady, easy grind soaked by booze every night?

AMC: It is an easy grind —> therefore booze-soaked. Expense accounts help.

DW: And Neal set the MTV reporter straight with basically the post-facto, can't-believe-everyone-else-is-so-dumb Aaron Sorkin take on Ron Paul.

AMC: But she didn't stay abashed, which is why I liked her. I want a series about her adventures. Moving on to a less realistic character: Fired Romney Aide!

DW: What was unrealistic about her?

AMC: I think she is the proof that the show really isn't anti-conservative! See, there are sympathetic Republicans who want to do The Right Thing — they just get fired for doing it. And, I dunno, maybe your experience is different, but I have almost never found a campaign aide to extract personal venegence (like tagging along on a double date) because they are upset by perceived bias. People can get pissy, and will withold scoops or whatever, but I've always had really cordial relationships with staffers, even those that didn't like what I wrote. It might help that I bought people a lot of drinks.

DW: My take: The Romney spox was fired because Jim was right all along about the campaign.

AMC: Women get in trouble because men were right all along. That is our take-away from most events in the show.

DW: He would tease her (and the male spox) at press conferences by asking if she was a cyborg, and he once let her off the hook after she told him on the record to go f--k himself. Now it turns out she had ideas for the campaign—Romney being more honest—and thus had to go.

AMC: A Philippe Reines moment!** (About the "go f--k yourself.") Yes, as I was saying, Nice and Smart Republicans are ostracized. Because Republicans bad.

DW: Nothing about that scene makes sense when you think about it. The spox is angry at Jim and invites herself to dinner, yelling about the Etch A Sketch ad. But she has, presumably, been fired already.

AMC: I guess she just Really Believes in Romney? Alternatively, and this may be giving the show more credit than it deserves: She genuinely believes that liberal media bias makes it harder to get out a conservative message—and believes that independent of being a part of the Romney campaign. Which I think is a real mind-set of some conservatives; they got angry about the media treatment of Romney even if for whatever reason they didn't like him. But, again, not sure the show would agree/try to portray that. it gives too much credit to the idea that there is pervasive liberal media bias.

DW: So they're talking past each other. Jim is liberal, but frames as just wanting the truth. She's conservative, and her business doesn't reward the truth at all.

AMC: That it is a genuine complaint worth taking seriously. What you've described is what, I think, actually happens in political campaigns! But the show kind of stumbled upon that truth.

DW: This has become an ongoing theme of these journo dissections of the episodes. Oh, the show made a point—was that an accident?

AMC: It gets to many things monstrously wrong that it's hard to believe the glimmers of intelligent critiques are on purpose. And they're always at the margins. The main story lines are designed to validate Sorkinism. And I'm sure you've gotten to this before, but— Wow, was I high during The West Wing? I remember really liking it. And A Few Good Men! (Tho I guess all Marine officers are cray-cray.)

DW: Honestly I think this season's improved to the point where I sometimes care about characters—you know, right before being annoyed once more at Will's role as a Mary Sue who can't do wrong. The subplot with Hope Davis—whom he won over by berating, obviously—was ridiculous.

AMC: Waste of fantastic character actor No. 2, probably a higher crime because she's doubly wasted being a girl and whatnot. And wtf with the intentional sabotage of the basically harmless morning show? It's a MORNING SHOW. OMG IT WOULD BE SO GREAT IF IT HAD BEEN MORNING JOE. If they had a Morning Joe show, I'm guessing Will would approve of it.

DW: I think it was last season that it was established that the ACN morning show is a den of accidentally vengeful idiots, which I sort of like—it was they who ran a gossip item about Will that he'd wanted to crush. He was angry about being debased in order to protect his Q rating! It was a woman's fault.

AMC: Getting his Q back up by being a Q-back! I'm pretty sure that was accidental, too. Yeah, I guess I think tossing a football isn't exactly "debasing" yourself. It's not rapping with Karl Rove or anything.

DW: We're given many more opportunities to understand why Jim is great than understand why Will is.

AMC: Though Will, probably due to being played by Jeff Daniels, remains my least-hated character (next to Drunk Paulite MTV Correspondent).

DW: I'd watch a show about drunk Ron Paul fans. In 2008, when I was covering Paul for Reason, I let my iPhone camera roll on a group of young Paul fans talking about revolution, and nothing is as entertaining in short bursts than 19-year-olds who think they've figured out all the stuff you squares never could. I should add that this was outside the Liberty Tavern, the Ron Paul bar in Manchester.

AMC: You have defined youth. That's pretty sweet. I was about to say the addition of any actual humans to the show would improve it, but maybe not. It would ruin the purity of the Sorkin universe and make it harder to mock. Was it this one or a previous one I saw yesterday that had the "vintage" Will footage?

DW: That was episode two. This show's actually pretty light on flashbacks, for the Sorkinverse.

AMC: His whole "I'll be here for you" promise? HE WAS THE LEGAL CORRESPONDENT AT THE TIME … not that the position isn't valuable, or that he didn't lend gravitas to the coverage, but it's not like he was Dan Rather or Cronkite, a steady presence in a time of despair and confusion ... like he was someone folks had invited into their living rooms for years and whose calm could comfort them.

DW: I guess that's an analogue to Aaron Brown? Wasn't he promoted in a hurry because he did great on 9/11? Maybe that's not the analogy the show wants.

AMC: ldkfjdlskjf.* I have a tradition of watching the show with the young lady (23) who cat-sits for me, and she is so consistently confused/appalled by it, I almost think you should have her on. She's like, "Why is that supposed to make me feel better?"

DW: What's something that got that reaction out of her?

AMC: Basically anything Will does. His grand gestures, like backing out of the 9/11 coverage. … She was like, "Does that happen? I mean, why wouldn't they just fire him if it's that big a deal?"

Also, SHE pointed out that it wasn't the Taliban that attacked us, before anyone on the show did. I think Sorkin VASTLY UNDERESTIMATES the audience for cable news. Like, people who already watch cable news, and who would probably care about a show like The Newsroom, they are not as dumb as the show portrays the typical audience as being. But I also know a ton of civilians who watch the show and love it—like, good Minnesota liberals whom I guess it validates. That's a topic for another time: people who unironically watch the show. I personally know several!

DW: I don't, but I suppose them's the breaks when you don't live in real America.

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*Not a typo. She was frustrated.

**Correction, Aug. 20: This post originally misspelled Philippe Reines' name.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.