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The Newsroom – Aaron Sorkin. Asking the questions everyone wants to ignore


When news was News - not a commodity



The Newsroom – Aaron Sorkin

Watch this. And don’t delay – it will almost certainly be pulled from the schedules in the US because it is taking on far too many, far too powerful vested interests to be left on the air. It is asking too many questions we, or those in power, would prefer not to be asked.

In a brilliant symmetry between form and content Aaron Sorkin is waging by the very fact of Newsroom, the same war his narrative dramatizes and explores. It is a fictional drama where the real world in which it is being broadcast may well determine its fictional conclusion. Just as within the programme, the battle is to do real news irrespective of ratings, advertising and special interests; so the Newsroom itself is trying to do grown up drama, addressing important issues albeit in a fictional, entertaining form.

These are just some of the fallacies and ideas that have pre-occupied him from Sports Night 20 years ago, through The West Wing and Studio 60 Sunset Strip, A Few Good Men, The Social Network and Moneyball. They are important questions. And no one is asking them as cogently, literately or entertainingly as Sorkin himself.

• Truth is what most people believe: and most people can be persuaded to believe what is not true – it just has to be made plausible enough. (The demomcratisation of truth and relevance is the inexorable direction of not just coporate self-interest but also the unintentional effect of social media).

• Because everyone’s vote is as good an everyone else’s; anyone’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s.

• The real alternative to a hard political choice isn’t the easy choice; it is the pretence that there is no choice that has to be made.

• A rigorous argument about a complex problem that not everyone can fully understand is undemocratic, unacceptably elitist and must be ignored, rejected or simplified to the point of distorting the facts thus undermining the validity of the argument based upon them.

• A good decision is one most people can be persuaded to support. A right decision can become a bad decision when it has consequences people don’t like. When this happens the decision maker will be pilloried for not having clearly explained the consequences before it was made: but if he had, his right to make it would have been removed before he could make it.

• The primary duty and responsibility of a corporate head is to the financial interests of his shareholders: the primary duty and responsibility of a journalist is to seek and clarify the truth as best as he can ascertain it and then communicate it to the electorate and public at large. This is an irreducible conflict because having the power over the means of delivery of the message (owning the newspaper, the channel) only bestows the de facto power over the content of the message – not the right. This contradiction and irresistible conflict can only be mediated by moral values not by a spurious effort to balance those conflicting interests.

• Because people can and are persuaded to buy things they don’t need or want; it’s ok for journalists and politicians to sell information in the same way.

• When qualified, experienced experts advancing rigorous, well-founded judgements about a difficult, complex issue cannot reach agreement – we should reject both and blame them for the consequent failure to resolve the issue.

For articulacy, wit, style, and sheer writing excellence in the service of serious, important ideas and issues; for me The Newsroom has no equal currently on air. Persevere with the breakneck pace of the dialogue; use the re-wind if necessary. It’s usually well worth the effort.

Newsroom doesn’t for one minute offer the right answers: it is dedicated to the idea that the only way to find if not the right answers, then the best we can come up with; is by seriously confronting and asking the right questions. Sorkin is an idealist: he believes that it is the essence of democracy that if the people are told the truth, with honourable leadership they will be prepared to support action based upon it.

Count me in.


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