Scarsdale's Aaron Sorkin Gets Mixed Reactions for The Newsroom

Now that we’ve all seen The Dark Knight—some people twice (ahem)—and since no other movies seem to be challenging Batman at the box office anytime soon, what are we supposed to do for our pop-culture fix? Well, there’s always HBO.

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Right now, we’re exactly halfway through the run of The Newsroom, a series airing on HBO created by, written by, and executive produced by Scarsdale native Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin’s on a good streak right now, winning the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Social Network in 2011 (for skewering another local, Dobbs Ferry native Mark Zuckerberg), and getting nominated in the same category again in 2012 for Moneyball. Yet reaction to his new outing hasn’t been quite so positive.

Of course, Sorkin always has his fans. In this case, veteran anchor Dan Rather is one. “The show gets close to the bone of what happens, what really happens, behind the scenes in newsrooms and the boardrooms that govern them,” he told Gawker. (Rather has since reviewed every episode of the show for Gawker, all pretty positively.)

Sarah Rodman of the Boston Globe agrees: “It is a behind-the-scenes look at an interesting, hectic professional environment—in this case the fictional 24-hour cable news network Atlantis Cable News—with a strong ensemble cast who must navigate gushing waterfalls of dialogue. And that dialogue is clever, impassioned, well-researched, funny, inspiring, and, honestly, frequently exhausting.”

“There’s no question The Newsroom is eye-rollingly full of itself,” Matt Roush writes in TV Guide. “But it’s also recklessly full of wit, passion, anger and humor—and timely purpose.”

But then there are those who are uncomfortable with the show’s Sorkinisms. “The Newsroom Is Incredibly Hostile Toward Women,” reads one headline in New York magazine’s Vulture. “Women: Aren’t they crazy?” Margaret Lyons writes. “Why are they so frivolous? Why can’t they be more serious—you know, like how men are? We’ll grant that it’s hard to write good characters, credible characters, textured characters, and it’s not like the men of Newsroom are all perfect; they are dumb and noisy, too, sometimes. What the show’s fourth episode drove home was that within the Aaron Sorkin world, there’s no insult more grave than being a woman.”

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That article has more than 150 comments, some agreeing with Lyons that the show is sexist in its portrayal of women, and some arguing that all of the characters are flawed in some way and that Lyons is being too sensitive. Strong feelings run on both sides. (I personally found it insulting when it was revealed that one of the female characters—supposedly a world-class news producer—can’t subtract numbers without counting on her fingers, but I’ve also been told I need to stop reading so much into things.)

 Photo courtesy of NBC Photo

Aaron Sorkin

Newsroom, Episode 5: “Amen”

Lyons isn’t alone at feeling uncomfortable about the show’s female characters. In a list—a whole list—of “terrible things” about a previous episode, Salon writer Willa Paskin says, “Because all women on ‘Newsroom’ must be overly emotional in the workplace, Alison Pill’s Maggie called out the guy she has a crush on but who is not her boyfriend—but is her boss—for sleeping with someone else, in front of the entire staff.” The title of the article? “‘Newsroom’ Gets Worse.”

And Paskin isn’t the only Salon writer who has the long knives drawn for Sorkin. “He’s a smug, condescending know-it-all who isn’t as smart as he thinks he is,” Alex Pareene writes. “His feints toward open-mindedness are transparently phony, he mistakes his opinion for common sense, and he’s preachy. Sorkin has spent years fueling the delusional self-regard of well-educated liberals. He might be more responsible than anyone else for the anti-democratic ‘everyone would agree with us if they weren’t all so stupid’ attitude of the contemporary progressive movement. And age is not improving him.” Yikes, Pareene—don’t hold anything back.

Sorkin, who recently fired most of the writing staff on the show, defends himself by calling the show “aspirational.” He told NPR’s Terry Gross: “I think that the critics and the audience who are reacting as hostilely to the show as they are, part of the reason is because they think that I’m showing off an intellect and an erudition that I don’t have. I’m not pretending to have it. I know that I don’t have it. I phonetically create the sound of smart people talking to each other. I’m not one of them. The characters I create would have no use for me.”

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So, how do you feel about The Newsroom? Is it an exciting, ambitious, inspirational behind-the-scenes portrayal of journalism with, yes, some flawed characters, or is it one falsely modest, condescending man trying to impart his smugness on the entire world? Or is it both—and can (or should) we tune this conversation out long enough to enjoy it as a TV show?



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