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Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Newsroom Episode 2: Journalism or Soap Opera?

Last week I gave a barely passing grade to HBO's incursion into the world of professional journalism. This week, I am giving it a big fat F.

The series, though filled with enough clichés about the news business to choke the most lenient journalism professor, did get off to an interesting start in its inaugural show. It dealt with the 2010 BP oil platform explosion off the coast of Texas that poured millions of gallons of oil into the ocean.

On last Sunday's show fictional producer MacKenzie decides the BP story is old news, even though in reality that story was being covered by every other major news organization on the planet because of riveting images of the oil rig sinking beneath the waves.

Instead, she wants to lead with SB 1070, Arizona's Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.
Emily Mortimer as Producer MacKenzie McHale

Ahhhh yes, here is where we see Hollywood flexing its liberal biases. The SB 1070 story is good because Gov. Jan Brewer is a racist, as is apparently every other person living in Arizona who believes that something must be done to protect the state's borders from the daily and nightly invasion of illegal immigrants.

When anchor Will McAvoy protests that the BP oil rig story is good television, MacKenzie climbs aboard her contrived journalistic soapbox and barks back: "We don't do good television, we do the news!"

Oh, I get it. The BP story is not news. At least not when "News Night 2.0" (the new name for the fictional news show) can attack a conservative governor who is trying to get the federal government to do its job and protect the nation's borders.

Maggie, a young producer who wears her politics on her sleeve like a Valley Girl wears a tramp stamp, is assigned to do the pre-interview with Jan Brewer's office. Naturally, she has to let the Brewer staffer know just what she thinks of SB 1070 (a racist bill aimed at Mexicans).

Then we find out she dated the staffer when she was in college and a remark he makes about Obama leads her to make a vulgar remark about his skill (or lack thereof) in the sack.

The result is that Jan Brewer bails on the interview with Will McAvoy and goes to CNN instead. In reality such a dumb performance by a junior producer would get her fired. But not on News Night 2.0. She is, after all, the correct political flavor. Perhaps if she had been right of center....

None of this stops our executive producer MacKenzie from soldiering ahead with the SB 1070 story. Just 90 minutes before air time the show rounds up three other guests: a second runner up in the Miss USA pageant who insists her support of the bill cost her a chance to be first runner up; a wacko militia-man who does the interview holding his rifle (which he has named "Jenny"); and a self-published "professor" from an online diploma mill.

Is it a coincidence that all three come across as callous right wing nut cases while the Newsroom's left wingers are allowed to demonstrate their decency via PC homilies about immigration? Or am I letting my misgivings of Hollywood show through? Nope, I don't think so.

The show makes another point about obtuse conservatives when it airs footage of Sarah Palin making a gaffe about Norway and The Netherlands (she confuses the two during a short sound bite), and the beat goes on.

Is News Night 2.0 in the tank for President Obama? I am willing to take bets on it. Is the Newsroom spiraling into a soapy newsroom version of General Hospital? It appears so, but I hope not.

There is much about journalism and those who practice it that is worth watching. It just hasn't become apparent with this show--yet. Maybe it will.

Maybe the show will forgo all of the cliché-ridden interpersonal relationships (who is sleeping with whom? and why? and why not?) and actually show how good reporters, editors, producers, etc. work a story. To date, that has not happened. In fact, no one ever leaves the newsroom to pursue a story. They just seem to drift from one office to another with an occasional appearance in the newsroom.

Maybe the reporters in The Newsroom (by the way, where are they?)  and producers (plenty of those) will curtail their overt left wing biases and focus on how exceptional journalism is done, rather than behaving like a collection of unpleasant narcissists who see journalism as their personal ladder to fame and wealth.

On the other hand, maybe The Newsroom will continue to devolve into nothing more than another Hollywood left wing political vehicle that views the world as an "us and them" proposition--where "us" equals good and "them" equals evil.

Whatever happened to objectivity, fairness and accuracy? Stay tuned. Maybe those critical journalistic qualities will appear in future episodes of The Newsroom.

I'm not holding my breath!


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