Broken News

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Romano

Aaron Sorkin's chatty idealists invade cable TV.

On the fourth episode of The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin's new HBO series, anchorman Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) encounters an agreeable blonde at a New Year's party. So far we've mostly seen McAvoy at work--experiencing a Howard Beale-style meltdown, shedding his lucrative persona as the Leno of cable news, and lecturing everyone in sight about his new mission to become "the moral center of journalism."

But now McAvoy is off the clock. He flirts; she swoons. And it seems, for a few seconds, as if his pontificating will subside--until (alas) the blonde reveals that she is a gossip columnist about to publish a "takedown" of one of New Jersey's Real Housewives. "I would have more respect for you if you were a heroin dealer!" McAvoy snaps. He is so repulsed that when the lady leans in for a midnight smooch, he palms her face like a basketball.

Viewers inclined to describe gossip columnists as dope peddlers and reality-television fans as "bitches"--this is McAvoy's winsome term for the other female character foolish enough to show an interest in Housewives--will probably enjoy The Newsroom. Normal human beings, however, may feel a little more conflicted.

The West Wing was Sorkin's seductive fantasia about how America should be governed; the new series is his equally far-fetched reverie about how it should be covered. Both shows rely on the same basic building blocks: handsome idealists emitting reams of encyclopedic Sorkinese as they canter through glassy office spaces on an improbable quest to redeem the American experiment. But The West Wing did something The Newsroom doesn't, at least not yet: it put its characters before its politics. The result? Both seemed more real than they had any right to be.

Sadly, Sorkin flips this formula on The Newsroom, pumping his creations so full of media-critic talking points that they almost suffocate. And while Sorkin is right about the false bias toward balance that plagues the postmodern press, his decision to center the series on the real events of 2010 prevents him from dramatizing how that bias could actually be combated. …