Monday, August 27, 2012

Is Newsroom Liberal or Conservative?

Is the HBO series The Newsroom a liberal program or is it a conservative show? That is the burning question on the political hearts and minds of many viewers of the latest entry of writer Aaron Sorkin. The show has run an interesting first season so far, which stars Jeff Daniels as the moderate Republican chief anchor, Will McAvoy of a Fox News-CNNesque style cable news network. Emily Mortimer is the more liberal producer of McAvoy’s centerpiece.

Back in June of this year after the pilot aired I gave the show a fairly decent mark and claimed that its first episode set a high bar, but also wondered if Sorkin would be able to keep the episodes on an even, moderate keel and not be tempted, as Hollywood tends to be in these kinds of pieces, to move radically to the left of the spectrum. While Newsroom has slipped from time to time and jumped that liberal-shark, it has pretty much stayed on the course it promised - an honest, moderate look at both sides of the political aisle and in doing so has successfully pissed off both liberals and conservatives on the extreme left and right, which for me indicates Sorkin is doing something a little correctly and making a mostly well presented case for just how intolerant and uncompromising our government and a radical segment of our population has become. And, while that segment is still a small one they are a noisy bunch indeed.

Those on the right see the show as just another piece of liberal tripe coming out of the Left Coast. Rush Limbaugh stated, "The existence of The Newsroom is the greatest possible concession that the liberals lost the argument and are continuing to lose it.  There's no reason for Republicans to look down on this show.  It's a safer outlet for leftist anger than Occupy Wall Street. It’s a miniature universe in which they are smarter, nobler and better than everyone else. Children have fantasy worlds like that.  There's no reason that liberals shouldn't, too.  Not only does it give them the security of believing that they really were superior, but it prevents them from learning any useful lessons from their defeat 'cause if they're gonna sit there and lie to themselves and tell 'em they actually won and they actually were smarter, it can't help 'em.”

The New Yorker doesn’t find the show liberal enough for their taste. Television critic Emily Nussbaum reporting for The New Yorker said that Will McAvoy’s pilot episode “diatribe is bona-fide baloney-false nostalgia for an America that never existed.”

What was McAvoy’s rant? He was asked by a journalism student during a panel that included a liberal, a conservative and the moderate Republican McAvoy why America is the greatest country in the world? Will starts to give the standard answer, but, after being pushed by the moderating professor, decides to be honest for a change and lays it all out there.

“It’s not the greatest country in the world...that’s my answer.” “...The NEA is a loser. Yeah it accounts for a penny out of our paychecks, but he [pointing to the conservative on the panel] gets to hit you with it anytime he wants. It doesn’t cost money, it costs votes. It costs airtime and column inches. You know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fuckin’ smart, how come they lose so goddamn always?”

“And [to the conservative on the stage] with a straight face, you’re going to tell students that America’s so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom, Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom. Two hundred sovereign states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom.”

“An you-sorority girl-yeah-just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know, and one of them is that there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies. None of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are without a doubt, a member of the WORST-period-GENERATION-period-EVER-period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re taking about?! Yosemite?!!!”

Now, no doubt, Nussbaum probably liked that part of Will’s rant. It contained a lot of left-winged, liberal rhetoric, but I have to admit, the numbers were pretty much right on so there is no arguing with the facts of what he said. My argument would be with how liberals and ultra-conservatives like to slant those numbers to make their own rhetorical points with voters. Now comes the part where The New Yorker critic thought was pure “baloney.”

“We sure use to be. We stood up for what was right! We fought for moral reasons, we passed and struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached the stars, and we acted like men. We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t belittle it; it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy. And we were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one - America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.” “Enough?”

I will concede a bit to both Limbaugh and Nussbaum on a couple of points. One, Sorkin does seem at times to go out of his way in his scripts in this show to be apologetic for the pathetic state of affairs within the liberal camp these days by stepping further out on that limb of we are right, sorry you can’t see that and you bad people on the right are so damn wrong. And, to my own chagrin, Nussbaum makes a valid point that McAvoy’s memory of the America that use to be is a bit skewed from the reality. Yes, there was a time when this country did great things and dared to be great and aspired to greatness. We actually knew and cared about our next door neighbors and those in real need within our communities. And, I am one who believes that is still the case and have yet to fall prey to those who think our best days are behind us. However, I recognize that the world has gotten a lot smaller and now those great days before us will be accomplished as we, as individuals working together with other individuals across the globe, dare to dream big and reach out and not pull our arms back in until we have reached the goals set before us. A famous writer and show creator by the name of Gene Roddenberry called this way of looking at the world around us “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.” To be great today we must adopt this philosophy and make it a vital part of our thinking.

Will Newsroom help achieve this kind of thinking? Not likely. It is too fraught with the same kinds of frailties we continue to suffer from in our real daily lives. The seemingly endless need to find what makes us different over our sameness.

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