The final episode of The Newsroom aired this past Sunday. It was drippingly sentimental, full of reflections back through the whole series, plus some backstory on Sam Waterston’s character who died in the studio of a coronary in the previous episode. It had all the faults of all Aaron Sorkin programs and films: people talking faster, wittier, and more economically than anyone you ever met in real life.
And, like all Sorkin programs, none of that mattered. So what if it went by faster than you’re used to hearing it: That just means you’re getting more good dialog about important things than most TV programs or films are willing to trust you with.
This is the only TV program I can recall, since the days of Edward R. Murrow, that seriously took on the First Amendment and how it plays in current journalism. It examined critically the difference between blogging, posted street-shots and real journalism. It posed crucial questions about what the so-called “news” in whatever medium is all about. It showed people in the kind of everyday ethical dilemmas real journalists confront on a regular basis: How do you deal with rumor and innuendo? How to you deal with stories you believe are true but cannot substantiate? How do you deal with publishers’ pressure to make news that will sell as opposed to news that tries to tell the truth? What kind of human, personal interactions go on before the show airs or, by implication, today’s edition of the paper is printed?
It was a show about ethics and responsibility, about professionalism in a time of ever-multiplying factoids. It was about trying to find out what matters and figuring out how to tell other people what you have learned—and back up. There was a lot of goo and sentimentality on the way, but have you looked at what else is available on TV? You want to do a goo-to-good-stuff comparison? Sorkin blows the rest of them out of the water.
So hooray for Aaron Sorkin, Jeff Daniels, Jane Fonda, Allison Pill, Olivia Munn, Emily Mortimer, B. J. Novak, and all the rest. Thanks to the cinematographers and editors for that splendidly shot and cut high-velocity show. Thanks to them all for giving form to the Amendment the framers of the US Constitution saw fit to put first, because they knew without it, the others were meaningless: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Think about what’s been going on in the streets of New York, Washington, and other cities across this country the past week. Think about the Senate torture report, most of which is suppressed. Think of how little we know, how hard it is to find out what is really going on, what prices are paid by the people who try to let us know these things. That is what The Newsroom was about.