“Speaking Truth to Stupid”

July 30th, 2013

I missed this, but last year, Jake Tapper captured exactly what’s so grating about The Newsroom in a critique of the show:

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.

That was obvious from the very first episode, with Mackenzie McHale’s rant:

WILL: And what does winning look like to you?

MACKENZIE: Reclaiming the Fourth Estate. Reclaiming journalism as an honorable profession. A nightly newscast that informs a debate worthy of a great nation. Civility, respect, and a return to what’s important. The death of bitchiness, the death of gossip and voyeurism. Speaking truth to stupid. No demographic sweet spot. A place where we all come together.

We’re coming to a tipping point. I know you know that. There’s gonna be a huge conversation. Is government an instrument of good or is it every man for himself? Is there something bigger we want to reach for or is self-interest our basic resting pulse? You and I have a chance to be among the few people who can frame that debate.

Apparently, when the news is framed by someone who believes that the debate over the extent of government and what its proper role is can be accurately summarized as the choice between people who believe government is an “instrument of good,” and people who believe it’s “every man for himself”—and that the former group believes that there’s “something bigger we want to reach for” while the latter believe self-interest is “our basic resting pulse—then that’s a place where “we all come together.”

Tapper shows what this “reclaiming” of the Fourth Estate looks like in a later episode:

In another episode Sorkin pats McAvoy on the back for limiting his coverage of the failed Times Square bomber and resisting the temptation to “hype” a terrorist threat that fizzled. (With no apparent sense of sarcasm, Skinner repeats praise for their restraint from Media Matters and Think Progress, as if those explicitly liberal websites are nonideological arbiters of Edward R. Murrow’s legacy.) And what are the important issues “News Night” covers instead of the piffle of Faisal Shahzad, a homegrown terrorist funded and trained by the Pakistani Taliban? McAvoy instead devotes at least a week of his broadcast to showcasing what a horribly inept and dangerous bunch Tea Party Republicans are as they—gasp!—defeat establishment Republicans in free and fair primaries and elections. It’s all well and good to follow the Koch brothers’ money, but at a time when Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, it’s telling that McAvoy and Sorkin aim their sights at conservatives seeking power—not moderates and liberals wielding it.

That nicely encapsulates what’s so vapid about McHale’s speech: Her character, and the show, is attempting to frame the news in pursuit of their own ideology, while draping it in beautiful platitudes about civility and respect, honoring journalism and rising above the monumental stupidity of dominant media. It’s deliciously cynical, or disturbingly delusional, to frame the news such that your ideology is the source of all enlightened truth and progress, and your opponent’s is the fount of all terrible, retrograde and corrupt, and call that “inform[ing] a debate worthy of a great nation” and “return[ing] to what’s important.”