I want to be clear at the start by saying that almost everything I think about Aaron Sorkin is probably colored by the movie, The Social Network, which is an hatchet job on Mark Zuckerberg. In defending The Social Network Sorkin said “I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling”. I do want to acknowledge that it was good story telling, but it was fraudulent storytelling. Worse, it was fraudulent story telling about a real person – many real people, actually, especially Priscilla Chan who Zuckerberg is now married to – who is still alive.
As a liberal, I very much enjoyed The West Wing. Everybody was so right, as in correct, and so brilliant – especially President Josiah Bartlett – and they were so busy and quick witted. It all seemed so real. Of course it wasn’t, we didn’t have President Bartlett, we had President George Bush the Younger. When Studio 60 came on the air, I expected it to be great and I was very disappointed. It was pretty much the same fast talking gang but I was no longer particularly interested in them.
I saw some bad reviews of The Newsroom, but I still was looking forward to seeing it for all the reasons I liked The West Wing (and we have a subscription to HBO, so What the hell). The Pilot was very Sorkinesque – including the fraudulent part of Sorkin – with quick talking, witty, brainy people and maybe I should have loved it, but I didn’t. It replayed the BP Gulf oil spill and then played it in the same over the top way the press actually did play it, all the while inferring that the real news people didn’t cover it right. He is right, they didn’t cover it right because they covered it in the same breathless way that Sorkin pretends to.
Like Sorkin, they covered the oil spill as the worst ecological disaster in the history of mankind. And it wasn’t. But there is a real ecological disaster going on here and that is the degradation of the Louisiana coastline. The real newspeople aren’t covering that very much because it is not dramatic enough and Sorkin doesn’t even pretend to cover it.
But my biggest complaint is Sorkin’s nostalgia for the old timey news guys. Supposedly, they were better at covering the news. One character – the wise old man, I guess – says We just decided to referring to covering the news with integrity which becomes the title of the episode, We Just Decided To. These are the newpeople who didn’t cover the deplorable conditions for blacks in the south for almost 100 years. They didn’t cover the lynchings, the reign of terror, until it was jammed down their collective throats. They didn’t cover President John Kennedy banging every woman in sight including many underage girls. Yes, they did cover the disintegration of the Vietnam War, but not as well as the disintegration of the Iraq war was covered.
The old timey newsmen were company men and the company was the white establishment. There is more information available, to even the most casual observer, today than ever before. More news and more real facts. In many areas, like the BP oil spill, the cable news channels probably dwell too much. Sure, it is harder to get information on the ecological disaster of the Louisiana coastline degradation than it should be, but nobody covered that 50 years ago at all. And this was when the Army Corps of Engineers was actively hurting it. My personal anger is that nobody covered the destruction of Glenn Canyon, one of the most beautiful places on earth, except to exalt Lake Powell. People who knew the area were screaming and the press ignored them while writing fawning articles about the Army Corps of Engineers.
I suspect that Sorkin didn’t set out to do a hatchet job on Zuckerberg, he was just collateral damage in Sorkin trying to go after the web in his haste to glorify the good old days.