Aaron Sorkin responds to "Newsroom" writer's tweets about campus rape episode

"I’m saddened that she’s broken that trust"

Published December 8, 2014 9:25PM (EST)

Aaron Sorkin          (AP/John Shearer/Invision)
Aaron Sorkin (AP/John Shearer/Invision)

Sunday night's episode of "The Newsroom" -- the penultimate in the show's final season -- caused quite an media-storm due to a subplot that dealt with campus rape. One of the uproarious voices came from a member of "The Newsroom's" own writers room. Staff writer Alena Smith tweeted her unhappiness with the subplot in response to a review by New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum.

This year, a new light has been shed on the astounding number of women raped on college campuses, and even prompted action from the President. And this "Newsroom" subplot coincided with the current Rolling Stone article on an alleged campus rape at UVA (which it has subsequently walked back).

Sorkin, in a comment to Mediaite, responded to the criticism by slamming the writer for breaking the "trust" of the writers room. Sorkin expected criticism of the episode on this morning's HBO forum, but received none. From Mediaite:

"Let me take a moment to say that I understand that the story in last night’s episode (305–'Oh Shenandoah') about Don trying to persuade a Princeton student named Mary (Sarah Sutherland) not to engage in a 'Crossfire'-style segment on his show has catalyzed some passionate debate this morning. I’m happy to hear it.

"It catalyzed some passionate debate in our writers room too. Arguments in the writers room at The Newsroom are not only common, they’re encouraged. The staff’s ability to argue with each other and with me about issues ranging from journalistic freedom vs. national security to whether or not Kat Dennings should come back and save the company is one of their greatest assets and something I look for during the hiring process. Ultimately I have to go into a room by myself and write the show but before I do I spend many days listening to, participating in and stoking these arguments. As with any show, I have to create a safe environment where people can disagree and no one fears having their voice drowned out or, worse, mocked.

"Alena Smith, a staff writer who joined the show for the third season, had strong objections to the Princeton story and made those objections known to me and to the room. I heard Alena’s objections and there was some healthy back and forth. After a while I needed to move on (there’s a clock ticking) but Alena wasn’t ready to do that yet. I gave her more time but then I really needed to move on. Alena still wouldn’t let me do that so I excused her from the room.

"The next day I wrote a new draft of the Princeton scenes–the draft you saw performed last night. Alena gave the new pages her enthusiastic support. So I was surprised to be told this morning that Alena had tweeted out her unhappiness with the story. But I was even more surprised that she had so casually violated the most important rule of working in a writers room which is confidentiality. It was a room in which people felt safe enough to discuss private and intimate details of their lives in the hope of bringing dimension to stories that were being pitched. That’s what happens in writers rooms and while ours was the first one Alena ever worked in, the importance of privacy was made clear to everyone on our first day of work and was reinforced constantly. I’m saddened that she’s broken that trust."

By Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

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Aaron Sorkin Alena Smith Campus Rape The Newsroom The Newsroom Season Three Twitter