“The Newsroom” bashes Sandra Fluke coverage and those exhibitionist gays

Some surprising folks -- Sandra Fluke, Trayvon Martin, Tyler Clementi -- come in for reappraisal on "The Newsroom"

Topics: The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin, HBO, jeff daniels, Emily Mortimer,

"The Newsroom" bashes Sandra Fluke coverage and those exhibitionist gays (Credit: HBO/Salon/Benjamin Wheelock)

This episode of “The Newsroom” is titled “News Night With Will McAvoy” and that’s exactly what it is — an hour in what’s meant to be real time depicting a single broadcast of “News Night.” Don’t worry, though; while Will is occupied hosting his program, other characters are allowed to deliver the sermons we’ve grown accustomed to, albeit with bizarre targets.

This episode is set in March 2012 — a temporal leap ahead from the last episode, meaning that the lead story on the program is the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. While several threads run through the episode, I’ll untangle them here and take them one at a time for clarity, starting with the Martin case; the staff is attempting to download the just-released tape of George Zimmerman’s 911 call. About midway through the program, Will interviews a correspondent (who is black) about the case. His distinctive interview method is just hectoring her about how Zimmerman “gets the benefit of the doubt now” and how Martin might have provoked him. Credit where it’s due: This is really just exactly what America needs to see right now!

Maggie cut down Zimmerman’s 911 call after it finally downloads — but she unthinkingly and under great pressure cuts out the 911 operator’s question about Martin’s appearance, making it appear that Zimmerman offered that Martin was black unprompted. (True news junkies may recall that a similar error committed by NBC News was not corrected on-air.) When Maggie realizes and immediately confesses her mistake, Will McAvoy corrects it on-air at the end of the program.

In so doing, he bumps from the program a gay Rutgers student — who likely would’ve been bumped anyway. This student is there to speak about the suicide of Tyler Clementi, who jumped from the George Washington Bridge when his roommate at Rutgers broadcast a same-sex liaison via webcam. Neal found a tweet he made indicating that his appearance on the program would be controversial and, after very little grilling, MacKenzie uncovers that this gentleman (who’s no John Wayne, as far as traditional gender stereotypes go) intends to come out to his parents on the broadcast. He comes in for a long lecture from MacKenzie about why exhibitionism is bad. She compares the kid’s description of the crime against Tyler Clementi — “You can’t take the most intimate moments of someone’s life and use them for entertainment” — to what he himself intends to do. “It’s just not that type of show.” He calls MacKenzie a bitch but she says she’s doing him a favor, and that she’d rather air “color bars” than his coming-out to “one-and-a-half million people.” Because a white man haranguing a black woman about George Zimmerman’s legal rights, rights no one contested, is better TV? It is impossible to tell how this show would have liked to cover the Clementi case, given that “News Night,” an idealized version of the news, has decided to cover it (at least for tonight!) not at all.

Let’s now look at Maggie’s state of mind at the time she made her error. She is told by Jim — who, having long since returned from covering the Romney campaign, and is now dating Meryl Streep’s daughter, whom he met there — that she smells of alcohol and is wearing the clothes she wore the day before. She compliments Meryl Streep’s daughter’s essay on Sandra Fluke at the Huffington Post, before noting that any essay about Fluke is fed by “phony outrage” and sputtering something about “Texas two-step refried-bean how do you do” (this, along with a diatribe by MacKenzie about “moxie” that was so incoherent it resisted transcribing, feeds into my grand theory that whatever Aaron Sorkin thinks of as how dames in screwball comedies spoke should have been left in the 1930s, on Mars). She notes that Meryl Streep’s daughter seems only able to write about Fluke, and that to find the essay, she searched “sexism” on The Huffington Post (??), which led her through a series of stories on celebrities’ “nip slips and side-boobs.” (Confidential to A.S.: Yes, the Huffington Post is an easy target, but did a search for “sexism” bring up articles about “side-boobs”? Only in a rhetorical sense.) Jim has no response to Maggie’s bold claim that a freelancer for a news organization ought to be held responsible for everything that news organization does, otherwise her work is entirely invalid. And why should he? Sorkin’s made his point about Fluke, who evidently shouldn’t have been covered at all by a media that by its nature traffics in sexist images. She also rants for a while about how she likes sex and shouldn’t be ashamed of it, which is great and true, except for the part where her love of sex is depicted as the consequence of a trauma and pathological to the degree that she’s unable to shower or to do her work.

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Keeping on the “sexism” tip, explicit pictures Sloane took of herself for a former boyfriend have surfaced online. Chris Messina tells her: “They have their own Facebook page; you’re trending number-one, Sloane!” So she is very sad for a while and ends up punching her ex in the face; she also figures out how to get Don out of a jam after WorldNetDaily ran as a scoop an offhanded joke he made about a blameless figure speaking at the “Righteous Daughters of Jihadi Excellence.” (He just has to get Neal to write a post for “News Night”‘s blog about how he tricked WorldNetDaily.)

Will is morose and not great on-air, stumbling and stuttering and leaving nearly a full minute of dead air before broadcasting the Zimmerman/Martin correction, because he’s sad his father is dying — before the hour is out, the fellow dies. He’s also troubled because a woman is tweeting that he snubbed her in a restaurant. It was picked up by BuzzFeed, we are told! “It should be obvious to you by now,” says MacKenzie, “that fundamentally small people are going to try to raise their profile by standing on your neck.” What a good way to elide any criticism of a person or a show. Your critics are just small — you’re worried about the Greater Things. Anyway, this is my last recap for two weeks as I am on vacation next Sunday, so on a completely unrelated note, follow me on Twitter!

Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

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