'The Newsroom' and Cynicism: Why Sorkin Desperately Needs to Get His Inspiration Groove Back
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'The Newsroom' and Cynicism: Why Sorkin Desperately Needs to Get His Inspiration Groove Back

By Sarah Carlson | Think Pieces | August 8, 2013 | Comments ()


At first, I wondered if my negative reaction to the latest episode of Aaron Sorkin’s TV drama “The Newsroom” was that as a progressive, I was getting a taste of my own medicine. Sorkin Smackdowns are generally reserved for the religiously intolerant or the willfully unintelligent, but in the episode “Unintended Consequences,” the victim was anything but. Shelly Wexler (Aya Cash) was a fictional representative of the very real Occupy Wall Street movement, and anchor and lead character Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) obliterated her during an interview on his nightly news program with smug satisfaction, taking swing after swing to prove his point that the movement doesn’t have one of its own. As the episode progressed and other characters such as Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) and Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) stepped forward to offer half-hearted apologies to Wexler — so they could get her to reveal a potential source for another story, not because they felt she deserved an “I’m sorry” — each in turn only made matters worse because they couldn’t keep their egos in check. More importantly, they couldn’t keep their cynicism in check, and in a Sorkin feature, that is a troubling development.

newsroom2.jpgSorkin’s hindsight-heavy summation of OWS as a failure through and through is disappointing, but that’s not my main beef. I can appreciate the presentation of varying viewpoints, and Will, as a conservative, often pokes holes in his more liberal co-workers’ arguments and assumptions. A challenge is a good thing. An outright refusal to engage in a healthy debate is another. Will somewhat acquiesced to Shelly, visiting the young professor at school to not-technically apologize for not having given her a chance to make a case for the movement. The episode began on Oct. 3, 2011. The OWS protestors weren’t forced out of New York’s Zuccotti Park until Nov. 15, but previews for this Sunday’s episode refer to the Trayvon Martin shooting (Lord, give us strength) on Feb. 26, 2012. My guess is we’re done with Occupy, and can any viewers who weren’t familiar with the movement provide a decent assessment of it other than to parrot Will’s general distaste? What was the point?

The point may very well be that Sorkin isn’t interested in producing — or perhaps is unable to produce? — the same level of inspiring characters as he did in his earlier TV drama “The West Wing.” That series is where he peaked, and what separates the moving, sweet, funny, intelligent drama from “The Newsroom” (we’re skipping over “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) comes down almost entirely to tone. President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and Will are different people, to be certain, and the actors playing the roles are equally excellent. But while Bartlet has his demons to wrestle, he is mostly a comforting, fatherly presence and nowhere near as damaged as the frequently bitter, cutting Will. Bartlet shut down his fair share of people, but his attacks weren’t aimed at just anyone he disagreed with. His opponent, Gov. Robert Ritchie (James Brolin), got a nice verbal slapping as the two debated, Bartlet having no patience for Ritchie’s folksy reliance of empty talking points, not actions, to win over voters. A radio talk show host, Dr. Jenna Jacobs (Claire Yarlett), received perhaps his most memorable speech for her use of selective Scriptures to back up her anti-gay agenda. Would Bartlet have done the same to Shelly as Will did? This wasn’t a politician, someone responsible for authoring bad legislation or contributing to the toxic environment of lies and obstruction that permeates Washington. This wasn’t an influential member of the media using her platform to promote bigoted beliefs, encouraging listeners to call her “Doctor” even though her advanced degree is in English. No, this was a young, motivated activist who wanted to make a difference in the country she loves. Since when is that worthy of derision?

Shelly wouldn’t have been treated as poorly had she garnered a slot in Leo McGarry’s (John Spencer) Big Block of Cheese Day, not that a movement to bring to justice those responsible for the Great Recession would belong there. Bartlet’s staff always grumbled about his Chief of Staff’s welcoming of the masses to the White House for a chance to pitch their crazy ideas, but they always changed their tune once they listened to their fellow countrymen. C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) learned to stop and pay attention to one group’s plea for a wolf-only highway, or the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality’s request to change the world map. Even Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) got stuck thinking about one man’s idea to abolish the penny. The Funnel People got their say, and everyone was better for it. Bartlet himself summed it up best:

I remember watching OWS coverage that fall; I wasn’t confused about the message. But I am confused as to why Sorkin appears to have lost his spark, his desire to inspire and to create characters worthy of praise. Will and therefore Sorkin may be on a “mission to civilize,” but without inspiration, the attempt is dead in the water. Don’t tell us what needs to happen; show us. “Unintended Consequences” got me thinking about “West Wing’s” beautiful two-parter from Season Four, “20 Hours in America.” (The episode starred a young John Gallagher Jr., aka Jim on “The Newsroom.” Mind = blown.) After a national tragedy, Bartlet delivers and moving ode to the individuals brave enough to run “into the fire”:

This came in the midst of a whirlwind 20 hours for some members of Bartlet’s staff who missed the motorcade and found themseleves stranded in middle America. Bartlet is running for re-election and his staff is on the campaign trail, talking with voters and arguing amongst themselves about the best method for winning. Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) and Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) learn along the way, however, not only that they need to listen when voters talk but that they need to in turn put their own words into action.

Start at 4:40:

The episode perfectly captures the kind of inspiration needed — stirring words paired with a call to action. That’s what Shelly was trying to give, and although she could have performed better on screen herself, Will’s refusal to give her a shot sealed her fate. If this is the story Sorkin wants to tell now, then OK. If Will’s behavior is reality and Bartlet’s is fantasy, then OK. The fantasy is over and we have another anti-hero on our hands. But that’s not what we need.

Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Allison McNeese

    Just a note...the second season of 'The Newsroom' is skipping around in time (as one can tell by the character Maggie and her hairstyle). My bet is that we HAVEN'T seen the end of the show's treatment of the Occupy Wall Street movement at all. I think Sarah Carlson is wrong about this...and perhaps hasn't watched the episodes already aired very carefully.

  • Chris

    I think comparing Will to Bartlett is a bit of a misnomer. Will's more comparable to a merging of Josh and Toby.

  • marigi

    Will is a Republican. Is it possible Sorkin is beating up his character because, as much as he is the lead in the show and the one we're supposed to like and support, the final point is that republicans are always "wrong"? Here in Italy OWS was portrayed as somewhat heroic, so I found this view interesting and completely new (although I found Paddydog's comments even more interesting). But I wonder if Sorkin, who is often accused if letting his characters "win" too often and too easily is attempting to portray flawed ones, and possibly not succeeding. And maybe that's the limit of his capabilities as a writer...

  • The Heretic

    What follows is a rant directed less to the Occupy Wall Street movement and more to Sorkin, or his brand of politics.

    The majority of political shows are about one of two things: money and politicking.

    If the political show is based on money, then that makes Washington a whore for those with deep pockets. But that trope conveniently gets rid of stickier issues like ideology.

    If the show is based on politicking, then that means the politicians just bicker instead of working towards the greater good. That is the pure Sorkin bullshit I always hated, and dates all the way back to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This rejects politics for the sake of some magical fairyland called "public interest" that ignores the tougher decisions between two value judgments, both equally valid.

    There is a third - and far more honest - lens to present politics, such as Netflix's House of Cards. It's about power. Pure unadulterated power. In other words, Washington is the source of evil. It's not some unfortunate place that became evil due to bad politicians or corrupted financial interests. Most political TV shows goes for the easier, low-hanging fruit with either trope and present simplistic solutions.

    Virtually every person looking for a career in politics owe their attraction or interest to a deep seated overpowering desire to force others to submit to their will. However, in order to push others around, they have to construct moral rationalizations why their pushing is good for the pushed.

  • ,

    "Virtually every person looking for a career in politics owe their
    attraction or interest to a deep seated overpowering desire to force
    others to submit to their will."

    I've come to the conclusion that there is some seriously sociopathology imbedded in people who aspire to high office. Just for starters, think about the contortions you have to put your conscience through to raise the money you need. You have to be willing to smile at people and shake their hands and take their money and them dump them overboard if it wins you one more vote. Because you can't do shit if you don't get elected.

    What normal person with a normally functioning conscience would put him/herself through that? Not to mention that at the very top you have to be willing, should it come down to it, to push a button and obliterate a city of 200,000 people. To send other people's children into combat. To assassinate "enemy combatants" without arrest, trial or conviction, and OOPS! Sorry about the "collateral damage."

    There's something very wrong with the top politicians. And by "wrong" I mean sick, and by "top" I mean everyone in Washington.

  • BlackRabbit

    Yes, but some of those things may be needed. And that means we need those people, or else have to find a way of getting the less-sociopathic people into high office.

  • I'd, uh, like to buy you a beer, Sarah.

  • Strtwise

    I actually thought this latest episode of Newsroom struck the closest 'tone' to West Wing. I could almost for a second imagine Toby delivering that on-air verbal smackdown to the OWS. Not because he disagreed with them, but because they were children playing in the big leagues, but still using childish reasoning.

  • lilianna28

    Will's dressing down was a recycling of Toby's WTO dressing down. Toby's was smug but eloquent. and eventually he figured out how to listen, just a bit. Will's was one note and sad.


  • I'm about as liberal as it gets, and even I think OWS was a failure through and through. They did the same damned thing the far left always does, which is refuse to create a coherent, central message and stick to it. Instead, no matter what is being protested, you are guaranteed to find signs saying Free Mumia or Legalize Weed. And while those may be important causes for some, they are also guaranteed to turn off the average person and dilute whatever the original focus of the protest was meant to be. There is a reason no one has successfully managed to create Utopia; without leaders, things tend to fracture and fall apart.

    I had more problem with Will being a total dick when the power differential was so vast than I did with the fact that he questioned how OWS could possibly be effective if they gave equal weight to everyone's pet cause.

  • Ok, so while I'm inclined to agree that OWS wasn't much for action, there's been a bit less of a focus on the relief work that the people from OWS after Hurricane Sandy (as a part of what they decided to call 'Occupy Sandy'.)

    In that effort they were enormously successful at mobilizing their existing network and their non-hierarchical structure allowed them to test out a variety of ideas to see what would work. They used twitter and facebook to organize volunteers and used amazon.com's registry feature to acquire the supplies that they needed for field work.

    That's a story that didn't get nearly the level of national attention that OWS did, and it's one that, in my opinion, deserves a little more attention.

  • I agree, and that was another instance where they could have used at least a PR leader to make it obvious what community-based, caring people could accomplish with optimism and a desire to help. The ideals are absolutely important, and the work they did/do valuable, and I would argue that they are a reflection of deeply-held values among most Americans: you help your neighbors and people who are suffering after tragedy, you don't let the weakest fall if you have the means to lift them up. This would totally resonate here in flyover country. But no one here realized that's what was happening with OWS, because no one in OWS had the cache to get television crews or other media to do a story about it. That said, the coverage of Sandy was abominable, and we saw almost none of the incredible work that was being done by construction workers from the south, who left active jobs to come move debris, or any of the other groups who organized relief efforts - most of whom do not have PR folks nor even thought to take time out to toot their own horns - so it's not surprising that the efforts by OWS were also ignored by the media.

  • Ruthie O

    See, I disagree. What protest has ever led to direct action in the US? Very few, if any. No, what OWS did was give an outlet for the collective rage of the working class. Most importantly, it introduced the lexicon and ideology of class consciousness into the mainstream. That is critical. The phrase "we are the 99%" changed the way the presidential campaign discussed the economy and momentarily took focus away from the Tea Partier activists. As someone who studies activist rhetoric, I can tell you that the most important thing a protest can do is to raise consciousness, an old adage of the second wave feminism. OWS did that in spades.

  • I would argue that both the abolitionist and suffrage movements - which were rooted in and supported by protest - most certainly did lead to action, if not nearly as swift as was merited. Also, the civil rights protests had quite an effect, though it could be argued that the media images had much to do with it. If the news had been contained to the areas in which protests were active, I doubt we would have seen as much as a push by people outside the south. Obviously, the Vietnam War protests changed the conversation, but also resulted in an unwillingness to resort to the draft. So, with all that, I'm going to have to argue that the most important thing a protest can do is result in substantive change in policy and law, however long it may take.

    On the other hand, while we talk about the 98/99% and agree with each other about how awful it is that those who sparked the recession rarely get punished, the focus shifted right back to the tea party (largely because their major corporate backers wanted it to) and your average person doesn't even remember OWS, much less any of the many things they stood for. Then again, most people don't even know feminism has waves, so we're already in the minority in terms of awareness.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    and the temperance movement!

    But like Ruthie, my thought is that they took a lot of time. And I'm ok with that. Because I'm looking at Egypt - and that's not the kind of response I want to protests in this country.

  • Ruthie O

    Ah yes, I agree with everything you wrote here. I agree that movements led to direct action, but those movements lasted decades, sometimes even centuries, before action occurred. It's harder to point to a single protest that led to a major shift (even the March on Washington in 1963 was only successful because of decades of organizing, protesting and raising consciousness).

    I guess I'm just optimistic that OWS protest was a catalyst for a substantial, arching movement. But I guess the major difference between the former movements and today's is the lack of attention span; as you said, most folks have probably forgotten about the whole thing. Still, the 99/98 terminology has stuck around, which is a start.

  • PaddyDog

    It did have an effect on the lexicon and how the economy was discussed in the election: I'll give you that. But I really disagree with "an outlet for the collective rage of the working class". My experience of OWS both in the NY and the camp that was established in Chicago was hardly representative of the working class, let alone wholeheartedly supported by them. The Koch Bros and others have unfortunately been far too successful at dividing the working class against each other: there is no "collective rage" of the working class. It's lots of tiny fragmented rage: one group is enraged by the unions; another by the immigrants taking jobs; another against the Chinese, etc. Only some really see the banking system as the big problem. And OWS was truly useless at making its case that it was not just another group of people who would "kill the economy by hurting job creators". I would say among people I know who work at ordinary jobs making an average wage, nothing fancy, they had less than 50% support and that fell even lower as the weeks progressed.

  • Ruthie O

    Yup, I agree with your critiques as well. I was trying to point out the positives of OWS in a quick and messy way, which left out nuance and many valid critiques of the protest. I mostly disagree with the sweeping generalization that it was a failure (as I said above, movements are not single protests, but decades of organizing and protesting). Related to your point, many folks wrote some great critiques about issues of representation and diversity at OWS; mostly, that white, middle-class college kids were becoming the faces of a movement addressing the issues of working class and communities of color. From what I read and witnessed, that was a struggle from the beginning to end.

  • PaddyDog

    Thanks for a good debate. I really enjoyed this dialogue.

  • PaddyDog

    And for the record, I am a die-hard liberal from head to toe.

  • PaddyDog

    Thank you.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    But I am confused as to why Sorkin appears to have lost his spark, his desire to inspire and to create characters worthy of praise.

    Maybe he hasn't, but he's lost the ability to.

    Or maybe he's trying something different. Perhaps he finds the current world more cynical, or the news industry particularly cynical.

    Perhaps he's setting Will up for a fall or a genuine lesson, and not an easily resolved lesson like has in the past.

  • lilianna28

    He lost his flame because he has no patience. And he's seriously, painfully recycling plot lines.

    And yet I will watch the Newsroom until the bitter end. Because there IS a spark now and then. And maybe it will catch fire again.

  • The entire season is framed around these smug assholes getting a major story completely wrong. Feel like that gets lost during the critical barrage.

  • nachosanchez

    Sorkin's problem is that he actually seems to believe the "Worst. Generation. Ever." sentiment, and as such considers any idea generated by a person under the age of 30 inherently inferior to that of any person over 30, regardless of qualification or actual merit. He portrays idealism of those of his own generation as righteous, and idealism of younger people as ignorant and ill-informed.

    What he needs to do is have characters who can oppose the main cast and not obviously be the villains. Aside from Jane Fonda and Chris Messina, Sorkin can have an argument between any combination of his characters and still end up with at least one of them allowed to feel morally superior. When they argue with strangers it's intellectual superiority instead. Who the fuck wants to watch that?

  • Artemis

    I think there are a couple of reasons why The West Wing worked while the The Newsroom fails so spectacularly. I agree part of it is about optimism vs. cynicism. But I think another big difference is in the characters. From the very first episode of The West Wing, the characters on that show felt like fully-realized people. Yeah, they could be smug or abrasive or rude, and they did their share of speechifying, but they were also believably funny and warm and likeable. The first episode of The Newsroom was basically just a series of self-righteous speeches delivered by a random assortment of empty suits, and I don't know a single person, even fans of the show, who really love any of the characters the way people still love CJ or Josh or Bartlett or Leo or Charlie or Mrs. Landingham or any one of another dozen West Wing characters (Sloan might be the exception, but I suspect she's getting a boost simply by virtue of how bad all the characters around her are).

    I also think the setting play a big role. It's okay to have characters who think they're the most important, influential people in the world when they are (or work for) the President. It's irritating to watch people with the same level of self-importance who run a cable news show. I don't know anyone in real life who takes cable news shows seriously. And yes, I'm aware that there are people who do, but I don't see any good reason that they should, so I can't help rolling my eyes when The Newsroom pretends that what they do is not just important but somehow earth-shatteringly so. Similarly, it made sense that even when he was sometimes short-tempered or smug or stubborn, people still looked at the President with stars in their eyes. But when a cable news anchor is just an asshole all the time, I have no interest in watching people still lionize him. Will humiliates a woman (of course) on television, a parade of people from his show then take turns attempting to apologize while all actually insulting her further, he eventually shows up to tell her he still won't apologize, and she for some unknown reason softens and is gazing at him admiringly by the end of their interaction? No. Journalists are important, but there are a lot of good ones in the world who don't treat everyone around them like shit. There's no earthly reason everyone would love this jerk.

    Also, this show made me hate Jeff Daniels, and for that I hate this show. Also, because of its total contempt for women and the internet and actual real-life journalists and other stuff. But mostly Jeff Daniels.

  • Wigamer

    So agree. The whole "mission to civilize" is absurd, because Will is relentlessly uncivil, sarcastic, verbally abusive, and lacks humility. When your protagonist is an asshole who seems to enjoy being an asshole, it doesn't matter how principled his stands may be--he's just plain hard to like. He doesn't have to be perfect, but he's at least got to be relatable, and Will is just not.

    Also, I cannot stand the way these characters physically assault one another. It's so stupid, and bears no resemblance to the way real human beings behave in a working environment.

  • Ruthie O

    Yes, yes, and yes. I also think that perhaps we never gave enough credit to the actors of the West Wing for shaping their characters. I mean, we give them credit for their amazing acting, but maybe they also had a role, whether directly or indirectly, in defining their characters and their relationships. For example, we know that it was the chemistry between Janel Moloney and Bradley Whitford that led to the profound, sweet, and fun relationship between Donna and Josh.

    Also, maybe we never realized just how much Sorkin needs Thomas Schlamme to really shine. Sports Night and West Wing, the peaks of Sorkin's TV career, were not done alone. Perhaps Sorkin isn't so much a genius as Sorkin and Schlamme are the dream team?

  • Artemis

    Absolutely agreed. I'm pretty sure that CJ would just be another example on the list of how Sorkin can't write women if it weren't for Allison Janney. Remember The Women of Qumar? Jesus Christ, that was the worst, laziest depiction of a woman caring about women's issues that I've ever seen.

    Similarly, I think Bartlett could very easily have come off as annoying instead of endearing if Martin Sheen hadn't injected so much sincerity and humor into that role. When I try to imagine Jeff Daniels playing Bartlett, I just want to punch him in the face. (Making Jeff Daniels the most punchable face in show business will apparently be the one thing I take away from The Newsroom.)

  • lilianna28

    Since the West Wing, Sorkin's shows have not allowed for ANY slow builds in character development. With the West Wing the relationship builds were glorious and slow and built on top of each other- Donna didn't run away to another country in season 2 for chrissakes, it took a while. Casey and Dan had a failed relationship when the season began but you weren't hit over the head with it. In one season we get this almost abrasive and pointedly idiotic reveal that the 2 main characters loved and cheated (or were cheated on) we got a love triangle that drove everyone to such distraction one had to run to Africa and have a Life Changing Moment. DUDE Sorkin, let it breathe. Let these characters come together with a flow that feels natural. Keep things professional at work- let relationships build, let us CARE about Maggie before she pouts her way to what should be a write up by HR for her blatant insolence.

    It's when we see hints of the past that make these characters people (Will's reveal of how long Mac had cheated, for example) that we can understand their motivations. But throwing us big names and saying CARE! NOW! doesn't work.

  • PaddyDog

    I agree with so much of what you said here, but I do admit to loving Charlie Skinner and his ever present tumbler of whiskey. In fact I may be incapable of not loving any character played by Sam Waterston with an assist from booze. The combination of those twinkly eyes and the whiskey (Jack McCoy must be in line for a liver transplant by now; Nick Carraway drank grain alcohol from a bath tub; Sidney Schanberg drank Cambodian hooch) just work for me.

  • I'll say this -- the differences between West Wing and Newsroom, while there, are not as pronounced as many wish to believe. Had WW and Newsroom flipped debut dates, methinks WW would act as the critical punching bag, wholly emblematic of Sorkin's liberal smugness, disdain, and delusional high-mindedness. Look no further than the example above. Can you imagine the critical reaction today if a liberal TV president eviscerated a religious woman in front of a room full of people? SORKIN IS A SMUG LIBERAL! SORKIN HATES WOMEN! SORKIN BEATS US OVER THE HEAD WITH HIS BELIEFS!

    It's why I never really took most Newsroom criticism seriously. Sure, the show is flawed. Sometimes greatly. But so was the critically adored WW. Shit, if I count the number of plotlines, characters, and themes that Sorkin recycled from WW, I'd be out of fingers, toes, and dicks in about 30 seconds.

    Last week's episode was terrible. Can't defend that in the slightest. And I tend to agree with your overall assessment that the lack of likable characters is a root cause of the Newsroom's struggles. But 90 percent of The Newsroom isn't "bad Sorkin." It's just Sorkin. These days we tend to view that as a negative. Audiences evolved. Sorkin didn't.

  • Patt

    It's always nice visiting a site that criticizes Sorkin for creating characters and plots that are derivative of his earlier work. Oh wait, we're doing the opposite now? I personally think that the West Wing would be a little out of place in 2013. Heck, it even seemed out of place in 2004.This shows seems truer to it's real life counterparts than the West Wing, which was always praised more for the accuracy of it's sets than it's characters.

  • abell

    I'd say yes, this is your progressive politics more than anything else. Throughout the post you assume that OWS was optimistic and hopeful, good intentioned, deserving of support in ideals, if not in substance, and that OWS was a movement to "bring to justice those responsible for the Great Recession." As such, you've concluded that Progressive politics=idealism and Conservative politics=cynicism. As a conservative, I find very little that I agree with in those assumptions and am unconvinced that Sorkin has somehow lost what made him great. I distinctly remember enjoying the West Wing for his smackdowns of liberal sacred cows being almost as common as those of conservatives. This seems pretty in line.

    In short, your argument only works if you think OWS was a good/noble/well-intentioned thing and deserved better treatment.

  • I'm very progressive and I have the same view that this scene can be defended. Sorkin wrote a cynically-leaning episode, taking a shot at something many people, regardless of belief, would struggle to adequately describe or evaluate in hindsight. My sense of the scene was that we live in a remarkably more jaded world than even those years back to the West Wing, and the characters he's writing for reflect that. It's easy to dismiss the take-down, but to me there's a certain effort at holding up the world we are forced to confront today.

    Regardless of views on OWS and the coverage of it, I think it's safe to say from some distance and hindsight that the ideas underpinning it were poorly served by the execution of the protest and movement itself. I say that without saying it's the failure of those who tried to organize it and speak for it. For the thousands who were active, hundreds of millions stayed on the sidelines - for many reasons, but at least one was because it was never clear what the ask was. An 'occupation' almost by definition excluded too many people with average lives who would not or could not step into this civil action. The single most effective element, IMHO, was the 'Move your money' day, encouraging people to take their money out of the big banks and put it into local, community-minded institutions like credit unions. In all that time, they did it once, and it was largely lost to the public because there was no message around the action, beyond the cacophonous expression of frustration and anger tied to a call for regulatory action. Sorry, that's never going to work, ever, much less in this case where it was quite apparent the Obama Administration had no serious intent to take on Wall Street where it would hurt.

    Part the difference between today/Newsroom and then/West Wing is that we've realized just how disenfranchised people have become in their own self-governance, and we're in that horrible place as a culture of not having some general sense of a way forward. That won't last forever, but we live in deeply cynical times in the face of troubling political and economic policymaking [sic] that is the cumulative results of decades of policy and institutional moves to an extreme part of our political economy spectrum. I kinda get the way this was handled.

  • PaddyDog

    Excellent analysis: I think you encapsulated exactly what should have come out in the Newsroom interview.

  • Thank goodness, or my dissertation defense next week was not looking so good.

  • PaddyDog

    Sorry, as it turns out I am grading papers today for my part-time teaching gig so yes, I am sounding a little teachery.

  • :-)

    Teachery is important, it's how we put food on our children.

  • abell

    Wait, the food goes on the CHILDREN? I have been doing this wrong my entire life! I've got to try this, be right back.

  • PaddyDog

    can any viewers who weren’t familiar with the movement provide a decent
    assessment of it other than to parrot Will’s general distaste?

    It's not an overall assessment, but I'll give you my perspective. The OWS movement was one of those fleeting moments that for a brief second a lot of people hoped would make something happen. There are very few people out there who do not feel a great deal of anger at Wall Street. But it was frustrating to walk by their camps (I travel for work a great deal and spent a lot of last Oct/Nov in NY) and not see it turn into yet another "us versus them" thing. The various segments: drum players; peace activists; hippies; unemployed people; angry students, professors, etc. all seemed to be united by only one thing which was that they were not the working stiffs still trudging to work in the morning and back in the evening. I can't tell you how many times I was accosted by OWS people entreating me to quit my job and join them; or "stop participating in the system" (for the record, my work has nothing to do with Wall St.). I was even told to "take off my corporate jail clothes". I went from 100% supporting their anti-Wall St. stance to really dreading another walk past these people who seemed to have no sympathy for the average worker. I blame the professors most of all: many of them were well-paid, tenured profs who risked nothing by being down there, but wanted others to risk all. The simple truth is that when you have a mortgage and people depending on you, you can't sit in a camp and protest every day and this, I suppose you become part of the system and on it grinds, but if you want to change that, don't accost the very people you are purporting to support.

  • Artemis

    I didn't like OWS either, but I think you missed the point of that question. Sarah was asking whether anyone who didn't know much about OWS learned anything at all about it from this episode of The Newsroom other than what Will said about it. I think her point is that the show didn't actually have any kind of thoughtful discussion or debate about the movement, it just put up a silly caricature of one of its participants and then had Will say some things he disliked about it.

    I grind my teeth in frustration every time I watch Ainsley Hayes explain why she thinks the Equal Rights Amendment was dumb, but that's because I find the conservative line of thinking on that subject so frustrating and wrong. The character was in fact giving the defense that most anti-ERArs would give, and I know conservatives who love that scene for saying what they strongly believe. Here, the pro-OWS was never given a sincere opportunity to speak for the movement in the same way.

  • professor_love

    Don't forget, however, that the episodes of the Newsroom are told in hindsight about current events. The show has to be true to its conceit. OWS was a failure. Watching this episode in the light of living in 2013, everyone knows that. Would it have been better for Sorkin to paint a picture of what everyone hoped OWS would do, or to paint a picture of what it actually did? Wouldn't the former somehow be more tragic and also more melodramatic? It isn't like Will said anything inaccurate about why the movement failed to gain any real traction, and that interview becomes an object lesson for the left. If you are going to have a movement to change the country, you need leaders who influence lawmakers and become lawmakers. You need Jed Bartletts. To say that there are no Jed Bartletts on the left right now isn't cynical, it's true.
    Also, Sorkin has to be true to his characters. Will McAvoy is not a politician like Bartlett. He is not someone making policy who has ideals about the country or works with a staff that he cares about on a personal level. He is a cynical, skeptic with a television persona to uphold, and a set of political beliefs that he struggles with. He calls a thing what it is, and doesn't compromise on that. He's a news man, and the show would suggest that at heart he is more Edward R. Murrow than Sean Hannity or Keith Olberman although his ratings would be better if he were not. He is what he is, and though he doesn't give all of us the warm fuzzys that Bartlett did, as a character he is consistent and I would argue very well written and portrayed.

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    There is a third - and far more honest - lens to present politics, such as Netflix's House of Cards.
    It's about power. Pure unadulterated power. In other words, Washington
    is the source of evil. It's not some unfortunate place that became evil
    due to bad politicians or corrupted financial interests. Most political
    TV shows goes for the easier, low-hanging fruit with either trope and
    present simplistic solutions.

  • PaddyDog

    Agreed. I didn't pay much attention to the question, but it seemed like a good place to vent why I wasn't totally displeased with Will's line of questioning on the show.

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