Web Only / Features » August 19, 2013
Moderate to the Bone
In The Newsroom’s universe, the Left is just as deserving of Will MacAvoy’s righteous scorn as the Right.
The bravery The Newsroom speaks to is, specifically, the bravery of moderation. Any view that veers more than a couple of inches to the left is assigned to characters who are suspect, ignorant, irrational and maybe just plain malicious.
All season long, we, the humble viewers of The Newsroom, have waited to see the downfall of News Night with Will McAvoy. We know it will involve Operation Genoa, in which Sarin gas was allegedly deployed upon civilians. We know it will result in the entirety of the staff preparing for a lawsuit. We know that the story of Genoa will prove to be false.
But how, we ask? How will such a catastrophe fall upon our plucky team of news-folk? Will a source turn out to be untrustworthy? Will the Red Team miss a crucial detail? Or will a character suddenly, and for no apparent reason, slip into straight-up cartoon villainy?
Yeah, it's that last one. Jerry Dantana, the producer who was flown in at the beginning of the season, is apparently evil. And when Evil Jerry conducts a Genoa-related interview with a cagey source, who refuses to say anything other than “if we used Sarin,” he goes into the audio file and cuts the “if” out of the statement to make it sound like a confession.
This is especially confusing because, as the opening scene details, we've seen about five separate sources more or less confirm the story. Neal found Tweets describing a massacre. Jerry and Mac spoke to a Sergeant Sweeney, who says that it happened and that he was there. (That is, if Jerry can be believed! Maybe he hypnotized Mac into remembering an imaginary interview, or faked the other end of the phone call using his demon arts of ventriloquy.) There's an NGO report of a mass grave, turned up through an OWS protester, and the report includes pictures. Charlie has a confidential source that says the munitions report includes confidential material, which would easily cover chemical weapons. Why on Earth, when faced with a slightly unsatisfactory but still very leading interview, would Jerry suddenly go full fabulist on the matter? Why would the guy who was begging eloquently for better Troy Davis coverage three episodes ago suddenly just start making shit up on the fly and bullying the cast into believing him by screaming that they're all a bunch of stupid, gullible Obama-lovers?
Why on Earth, except that it excuses the regular cast of The Newsroom? And that it makes Jerry the new voice of the wing-nut Left?
I don't think Jerry's willingness to make up facts—and let's be clear about what the character's actions mean here: He is quite clearly placing both his career and the livelihood of everyone he knows in danger; Jerry Dantana is going to lose every relationship he has, and he will never work again, and he is doing this for one totally unnecessary edit—is at all unrelated to his eloquent pleas for better Troy Davis coverage. Jerry has been framed, from that moment to this one, as someone whose idea of the truth depends on what he wants to be true; a man who decides on the story, and then picks the facts to fit it. Just like Shelly, the OWS protester, with her utter inability to defend the movement in the face of Will's blazing truth-bombs; just like Hallie, Jim's new girlfriend, with her “phony outrage” over Sandra Fluke.
There's a reason Will McAvoy's rants—the ones we're supposed to admire—fall so invariably on the acceptable targets. This episode, he notes that Congress isn't focusing on the real issues (gasp!) and that Rick Santorum's religious views are pretty far out there (SHOCKER). This is supposed to be red-hot, blazing iconoclasm; we can even find characters frequently admonishing Will not to be so darn truthful and brave. (This week, it's the newly codependent Hope Davis, who says things like, “Honey, you've got to stay away from religion. You know you're just asking for it!” She gets cussed out, blamed for all of Will's personal failures, and dumped. You know, again.) The bravery The Newsroom speaks to is, specifically, the bravery of moderation. Any view that veers more than a couple of inches to the left is assigned to characters who are suspect, ignorant, irrational and maybe just plain malicious.
There's so much more to parse here. There's Jim's frequently, loudly voiced desire for sexual intercourse with Hallie. He takes her to a luxury hotel room full of candles and smooth jazz, because apparently Jim's greatest fantasy is to make love on the set of a phone sex ad circa 1997. There's the Female Nimrod of the Week, a Ron Paul journalist who gets hammered on Chardonnay and just hollers things like, “We don't need the IRS or the Department of Education,” and “RON PAUL 2012 WOO-HOO!” until Neal jumps right down her neck and stops all that woman-talk at its source. There is Neal's suggestion, when someone suggests that Ron Paul Nimrod needs to sober up, that she be kept drunk so that he may have sex with her. There's Sam Waterston gleefully steering a car into some trash cans, because once again, Sam Waterston appears to exist on this show solely to provide a human example of the phrase “silver lining.”
But mostly, there's the iniquity of Jerry Dantana. The sudden, blatant, cartoon-villain iniquity, which seems to have been committed solely so that he can shout popular left-wing criticisms of Obama's foreign policy, and so that we can shudder and call him a craven beast for doing so. There's only room for one powerful, opinionated man on this show, and gosh darn it, he's going to be as moderate as humanly possible. If the other candidates won't get out of his way, the script itself will take them down.
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Sady Doyle is an In These Times contributor. She is the author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear... and Why (Melville House, 2016) and was the founder of the blog Tiger Beatdown. You can follow her on Twitter at @sadydoyle, or e-mail her at sady