The Newsroom, Episode 3: I Give Up

OK, I have watched three episodes of HBO’s series “The Newsroom.” Enough is enough.

What I was hoping would be a breakout, first class TV series about journalism, how it is done and why it is important to our country has nose-dived from that lofty perch into the abyss of partisan political diatribe.

Three episodes ago the show began with what I thought was promise. Sure, there were gaffes (correspondents being embedded in Vietnam which didn’t happen; nobody on the staff actually doing any reporting; and lots of soapy chatter about who is sleeping with whom, etc), but I could forgive some of those.

In last Sunday’s episode any thought that this show would portray reporters and producers actually doing their jobs without inserting their own political biases into every event, interview or broadcast was snuffed out.

Jane Fonda as Media Mogul Leona Lansing

Instead, we get a dose of fictional Atlantis Cable Network (ACN) anchor Will McAvoy (initially the token conservative in The Newsroom) ranting and raging at the Tea Party and others who disagree with the Obama administration as though he were the White House Press Secretary. My advice to Obama: Fire Jay Carney and hire Will McAvoy.

Apparently, McAvoy’s avowed super-liberal executive producer (MacKenzie McHale) has managed in just three episodes to exorcise McAvoy’s imprudent conservative demons and convert him into a more agreeable (but no less ill-informed) version of MSNBC’s über-liberal ersatz journalist Chris Matthews.

Like Matthews, McAvoy bellows at the camera and insults those with whom he disagrees.

So THAT is who the McAvoy character is modeled after. I was hoping it might be somebody who has the integrity to keep his/her opinions under wraps while actually reporting the news. But sadly, that is not to be the case in The Newsroom.

With a newsroom full of producers, writers and others who view the world through a defective prism that can only reveal the left side of any issue, any hope that this series would provide viewers with a glimpse of how real journalists work has vanished.

Just about everybody on the show violates the Code of Ethics produced by the Society of Professional Journalists and that at least some of us try to adhere to. Indeed, that code might as well be toilet paper in The Newsroom’s lavatories.

The Preamble to the SPJ’s code states:

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice.”

I won’t duplicate the entire code here but there are at least three areas where The Newsroom is in obvious violation:
·       “Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.”
·       “Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.”
·       “Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.”

Ostensibly, News Night 2.0 (the new name of the show), is a return to good old-fashioned news. Give them what they need, not what they want–even if it hurts.

Yet Will McAvoy, in laying out the format of for his viewers, says: “My party’s being hijacked….something that began as a “middle-class movement responding to bad trends” was “co-opted by the radical right.” Because he is a confessed Republican (holy crap!), Will apparently believes he is the perfect person to take the tea party to task. So now the Tea Party is the target. 
Enter Jane Fonda as Leona Lansing, the woman who owns Atlantis World Media which includes Atlantis Cable News. And here Fonda is REALLY acting–playing the role of a cold-hearted conservative cable network owner. Now THAT does strain credibility.

Charlie (the Sam Waterston character who is the boss of ACN’s news show) stresses the urgency of criticizing Tea Party congressmen, and makes a comparison between Senator Joseph McCarthy and Republican Rep. Michelle Bachmann.

Leona dismisses that as baseless: rabid anti-Communist McCarthy, she says,  was “obviously bad” whereas Tea Party supporter Bachmann is nothing but “a bad hairdo” and not anyone to worry about.

Perhaps the most cringe-inducing comment made during episode three, as far as journalists are concerned, comes from Charlie who, in response to the perceived imbalance of News Night 2.0’s presentation of the news says: “balance is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with the truth, logic or reality.”

OK, I’ve got it. ACN is now the fictional twin of MSNBC. And Will McAvoy is evolving into Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz and Keith Olbermann all rolled into one persona.

My advice: Don’t stay tuned.

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