"The Newsroom’s protagonist Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) sets the series’ unequivocally backward looking terms in his first monologue. “America is not the greatest country in the world anymore,” he announces to an audience of college students. But, as this anymore implies, America used to be: “We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws — for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest.” Not unpredictably, McAvoy sees the country’s decline from this standard as directly connected to changing media dynamics: “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 premise of The Newsroom is the possibility of reforming the media, and thus the country, by following in the tradition of those men (“with names like Murrow and Reasoner and Huntley and Brinkley and Buckley and Cronkite and Rather and Russert”). This means “deciding what goes on our air and how it's presented to you based on the simple truth that nothing is more important to a democracy than a well-informed electorate.” McAvoy later clarifies his role in this transaction, making the implicit jarringly explicit: “Who are we to make these decisions? We’re the media elite.”
Well, there we, the audience, are — five minutes into the pilot and already hurtling irretrievably into history, in the company of Murrow, Reasoner, Huntley, Brinkley and the other media elites, to make America the greatest country in the world again. What do we do in the face of goals at once so selective and so sweeping? We spend 10 dispiriting episodes watching talented, intelligent, fast-talking people flail — taking on right-wing cranks, craven gossip columnists, and cowardly heads of their own station to no apparent effect except to strike oratorical blows for the importance of their profession. (Such oratory climaxes in the final episode of the first season, when McAvoy labels the Tea Party the “American Taliban” on air, a curious move in light of his stated aim to inform rather than incite the public.) We’re caught, in other words, in a cul-de-sac of the imagination, where circular rhetoric stands in for clear expressions of problems and solutions. Judging from polls, a critical mass of Americans share Aaron Sorkin’s feeling that things have gone seriously amiss, but is the optimal response to a problem of this magnitude and complexity really to restore the “revered” anchormen of the 1950s and ’60s?
Apparently so, which says something about the clarity of Sorkin’s historical analysis and, more interestingly, about the blind spots born of his nostalgia. He’s not addressing the reality of the postwar period so much as bathing in its imagery. What’s more, judging by the content and tone of McAvoy’s opening speech, the imagery is intensely selective: it derives from John F. Kennedy’s administration and the first part of Lyndon Johnson’s. These were the five or so years between Dwight Eisenhower’s political malaise on one hand and a grassroots political groundswell on the other, when an administration staffed by the country’s intellectual elite enacted social policies of unprecedented breadth and depth. It did this with the support of a society that had enjoyed 15 years of unprecedented prosperity, in which most of the benefits accrued to a culturally and racially homogenous group of people. These years, immediately following World War II and extending until the middle of the 1960s, comprised a period when Americans trusted each other, and in which they reposed an unparalleled level of trust in their leaders and institutions. It was a good time to be an ordinary white American and a good time to be an elite, and, given Sorkin’s preferred narratives, his attraction to this historical window is unsurprising."
Mark: So do we go with the fight in City Council about rezoning the waterfront, which is a big local story or do we go with the train wreck halfway across the world?
George: We go with the train in the Congo.
Mark: We're supposed to be doing the local news here.
George: Yes. We're looking for a local hook. (Pointing to Jeremy) He's on the phone with this guy.
Jeremy (on hold): Okay, my guy says there may have been a Canadian on board.
George: There. Okay? Is that local enough? Did he go into the water? Is he dead?
Jeremy: I don't know. I'm on hold. We'll find out.
Mark: (reading the copy) Okay. Hold on. Pirhana-infested Congo. Who said there's pirhana in the Congo River?
George: Jeremy did.
Jeremy: No. I never said that. I never said there were pirhana there. I said similar to...
George: I'm saying let's use the word pirhana. It's higher concept. People identify with it and we'll use something like pirhana-like. How's that? Pirhana-like fish.
Mark: We still haven't even confirmed there's a Canadian.
Jeremy: Well we're hoping there's a Canadian dead. I mean that's ... that's
George: We're hoping he's dead.
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