26 June 2012

The Truth Hurts #nlpoli

For those of us who loved the West Wing, we can look forward to his latest effort, an HBO series about news media called The Newsroom. [video link to Episode 1]

And we can be sure that it will be a finely crafted and savagely accurate portrayal of the news business.

We can be sure because a gang of news types at the mighty Ceeb are shitting all over it from great heights.
That is the surest sign that Sorkin has accurately described the newsrooms of today as something far less noble than its occupants imagine.

Mark Gollom, a senior writer at CBC online tells us that the show is inaccurate because at the Ceeb reporters are more concerned about the facts than about the colour coding of stories moving on the wire.  Methinks he doth protest too much, way too much, especially in light of some the decidedly unfactual shite the Mother Corp has shoved at its audience over the past decade.

You’ll get the same sort of stuff from the others in the CBC’s piece.

What is perhaps the most devastating part of the very first episode is the very first scene.  It is incoherent at first, as you see what turns out to be a room of journalism students listening to a panel of working media types. The catalyst for the scene’s key moment is an addle-brained question that two of the media types answer with comparable superficiality.  The pontificating professor refuses to let the central character, a veteran – i.e. old – news anchor, off with a pat answer.  he wants a human moment.

Apparently without realising the humour in her reply, Carole MacNeil dismisses the scene:
Facts, figures are rattled off in a speedy, yet monotone way that is impressive once but gets tired quickly, because there's no intimacy to the conversation.
Facts become tiresome. 

Facts are tiresome, evidently.

Facts?  Oh so tiresome.


The “conversation” lacks “intimacy”.

That is exactly the sort of pseudo-intellectual  bullshit that Sorkin savages within the first seven or eight minutes of Episode One.

“We aspired to intelligence.  We didn’t belittle it,”  Sorkin says through Will McAvoy.  Carol Off refers to this as the “jingoistic premise” that the Untied States is no longer a great country. The Newsroom is not about the Untied States as a nation.  It is about journalism, or rather the stuff that happens in the newsrooms where people like MacNeil and Off work.

It is about the change in reporting.  The change is easy to see in the difference between McAvoy’s comments and the bullshit of his fellow panellists.  But it is also about the audience.  They are a sea of faces eagerly eating up what is spewing from the stage.  One question is remarkably superficial and the panellists answer it earnestly.  This is the turning point of the scene.

But watch what is happening.  One person, a woman, way up in the back, lit from behind by the sun with Oliver Stone subtlety, holds up a sign that – as it seems – only McAvoy sees.  Take her as a metaphor for the odd person in the news audience these days who is begging for someone to speak the truth as he or she sees it.

The entire scene is carefully crafted.  The entire scene plays out in front of a gigantic projection  of Edward R. Murrow.  While Murrow may be the mythic Golden Age McAvoy might be mourning, the audience is a metaphor in itself, right down to the people using smartphones to record the scene, presumably to youtube later or, more likely, to Twitter almost immediately.  Such is the nature of the audience these days:  they do not need journalists to tell them what happened or what it means.

Not surprisingly, the online CBC piece gives the last word to Peter Mansbridge.  Not surprisingly, Mansbridge plays it as the Wise Old Anchor.  He is as superficial and dismissive as his less experienced colleagues – it is just “entertainment”, after all, he snorts – but Mansbridge’s condescension is unearned.  This is the fellow who gave us all the “Constitutional scoreboard”, after all, reducing a Supreme Court decision as a hockey game.  As entertainment, after all, of a uniquely Canadian sort.  “We aspired to intelligence. We didn’t belittle it,” Sorkin says through Will McAvoy, in a passage that evidently blew Mansbridge a raspberry as it flew over his head.

The West Wing appealed to political types because it showed both what they were  - warts and all - and what they aspired to be.  The Newsroom looks like it will do something of the same sort for journalists. The Newsroom does much the same thing.  Look at the row at about the 35 minute mark as McAvoy and his new executive producer argue about producing compelling news reporting that people will watch versus the “reality” of America’s polarised public opinion and advertising.

As Diane Buckner said, alone among the Ceeb crew:
I'd hate to be too critical of a series where a character makes an impassioned plea to "reclaim journalism as an honourable profession!” This is a program where journalists are heroes, struggling to find the truth and promote democracy. Yes!
That so many of Buckner’s colleagues attacked Sorkin’s show easily,  superficially, and without anything except self-referential, self-serving shit speaks volumes about the value of Sorkin’s new show.
It says a whole lot more about the CBC reporters and producers.

None of it is good.

* edited for spelling and incorrect references (antecedents)