Bozell Column: HBO's Arrogant 'Newsroom'

HBO should really try a new slogan for its original programming, and it came right from Aaron Sorkin’s acid pen in the debut of his ridiculous new series "The Newsroom." That slogan is "Speaking Truth to Stupid."

It’s an appropriate slogan for a pay-cable channel, which insists that only the really smart people pay the extra fee to join the television elite. But do Sorkin and HBO really deserve their lofty position of arrogance as the Smart People? No. Let’s count the ways this new show is preposterous:

1. It’s preposterous that this "Newsroom" is realistic. The first glaring indicator was disgraced CBS anchor Dan Rather insisting on his accuracy. He said the large number of TV critics who panned the show were wrong. "They've somehow missed the breadth, depth and ‘got it right’ qualities -- and importance – of Newsroom."

Real news junkies had to laugh at the idea that this fictional news crew from "ACN" handling real-life stories managed to figure out within a couple of hours that the Deepwater Horizon oil platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico was going to lead to a massive oil spill. In real life, the networks took weeks to figure out the story was more complicated than a deadly explosion.

If that wasn’t ridiculous enough, viewers are treated to the idea that the "ACN" crew of producers and fact-checkers was somehow out to lunch most of the day waiting for the Jeff Daniels anchorman character to get his contract revised. Then, with an executive producer in her first hours on a new job, the anchorman does an hour-long cable newscast with no script – and it’s presented as a seamless, Emmy-deserving hour of genius.

This is about as realistic as Rather’s ersatz Texas Air National Guard documents.

2. It’s preposterous that this "Newsroom" is idealistic. This show’s debut revolved around a rhetorical explosion the anchorman has on a college campus when a young woman asks why America is the greatest country in the world. She gets an angry earful on how America is not at all the greatest country in the world – with rat-a-tat statistics on how America only leads in incarceration as it lags in infant mortality, and it’s certainly not great because it’s free, because every country in Western Europe is free, blah blah blah.

Daniels finally exploded because he sat between an arrogant liberal and an arrogant conservative yelling at each other – and somehow he was the sensible center when he denounced the uber-patriotic straw woman. But the campus panel discussion he was on sounded a lot like "Real Time with Bill Maher," with Daniels getting to play Maher at the end. HBO, heal thyself?

Sorkin, talking through his characters, thinks that what America desperately needs are journalistic truth tellers to make democracy work. The people cannot rule by their own dim wits. They need the guidance of all-knowing anchorman-prophets. As one reviewer perfectly summed it up, "It is to love America, but to be unable to stand Americans."

Near the debut episode’s end, the news boss played by Sam Waterston lectures Daniels, "Anchormen having an opinion isn’t a new phenomenon. Murrow had one and that was the end of McCarthy. Cronkite had one and that was the end of Vietnam." Daniels had apparently been wasting away as the inoffensive "Jay Leno of network news" because he wasn’t running the country enough with nightly TV hectoring and lecturing.   

It’s downright bizarre for Sorkin to preach that the heyday of America was exactly the heyday of arrogant and sloppy CBS bias under Murrow and Cronkite (although that would explain why Dan Rather thinks he’s exactly correct.) The Sixties weren’t the heyday of TV journalism. They were the heyday of Sorkinesque leftism, which presented America as a psychotic colossus polluting the planet and killing minorities in lands they didn’t understand. That viewpoint was not idealistic at all.

What’s funniest here is that Sorkin would present himself as a cable-news idealist when he prepared for the show by embedding himself with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. If there’s anyone who better represents the victory of cynical egotism over idealism, it’s Olbermann.

3. It’s preposterous that this isn’t liberal activism. Sorkin did a round of interviews insisting that he’s not being political. He told New York magazine, "I want to make it clear, I’m not a political activist....I don’t have a political agenda. I’m not trying to change your mind or teach you anything."

The trailers promoting the Jeff Daniels tirade about how America isn’t great any more had already put the lie to that assertion. But the idea that Sorkin would try and claim he’s not political underlines how clueless he thinks the American people are. That’s not "speaking truth to stupid." It’s just shamelessly stupid lying.

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