“Newsroom” Notes: The End Is Near (and Greenwald Is There)

Once again I realize this is coming probably a day later than it should, but between the various projects I have weighing down my desk and the constant care of my little kid this is how it is for the next couple of weeks. Like last time around, I’m just going to give myself an excuse by figuring there are plenty of people who didn’t watch HBO’s The Newsroom on its Sunday night air-date anyway. If you didn’t see this week’s episode, entitled “One Step Too Many,” and you still plan to at some point, know that ahead there be spoilers.

Right off the bat, I mean it when I say that the show truly is getting better and better as the season goes along. In spite of the fact that we knew from the very opening scene of the season that the “News Night” team was going to take a major hit by airing a story that wasn’t true, it’s been interesting to see how the Genoa scoop falls apart. We now know, judging by the post-show promo this week, that next week’s episode will be the one where it completely blows up in everyone’s face. Suffice it to say that Will’s cliffhanger comment, “Charlie and I have to go,” will be an understatement. When you go on the air with an hour-long special accusing the United States government of the war crime of using chemical weapons on civilians and it turns out not to be true, there will be far bigger repercussions than a couple of people losing their jobs. A fuck-up like that calls for a top-floor filled ankle-deep with the blood of ritual seppuku followed by the entire building being burned to the ground. This week’s episode, though, slowly and effectively dialed up the sense of impending dread leading up to the inevitable collapse of everything.

Story-wise, I initially wasn’t sure how I felt about Sorkin taking what amounts to the easy way out by making the arrogant certitude of Jerry Dantana the sole reason for Genoa being botched. It almost felt like a deus ex machina or some other really cheap plot device to put the entire thing on his shoulders and reduce him to purposely cooking the story in the editing room. All season Dantana’s been portrayed as a headstrong careerist with delusions of moral grandeur, but secretly tilting an interview with a guy who’s still very much alive and can call you out on it the minute it airs is just amateurish and stupid. Still, there’s something to be said for the fact that for Dantana, the end justifies the means; he truly believes that the story he’s got is 100% true and that if he can just push it out into the light the house of cards will fall and all the evidence he needs that he doesn’t currently have will be made public and whatever was done to get to that point will hardly matter. He’s convinced he’s right, whether he can prove it or not. If this kind of thinking sounds vaguely familiar right about now, it should. This is exactly the way Glenn Greenwald thinks.

I realize that I’ve made this comparison before but I can’t stress enough how much it bears repeating over and over again: What The Newsroom has highlighted very well this season is what happens when a journalist’s process involves working backward from a conclusion he or she already believes obsessively and is determined to reach. Whether driven by dreams of 17 Emmys, a Peabody and a Nobel Prize or simply the desire to do what he believes is his ethical duty as a journalist — shining a bright light on political corruption and bringing the offenders to their knees — Jerry Dantana knows that there’s criminality at the highest levels of government and that he’s in a position to call it out. The only problem with this is that it can cloud your judgment, causing you to bind-and-gag the objective skeptic in your brain — provided one even exists — and lock it in a closet somewhere. You latch onto facts or even whiffs of facts that seem to prove the end you have to reach and either dance around or flat-out disregard the rest. What’s more, if the public knows of your biases in advance — if you’ve made it abundantly clear through demagoguery and a history of playing fast-and-loose with the truth and of dismissing contradictory evidence — it should at all times regard you with suspicion whenever you file a supposedly straightforward report on the subject you’ve proven yourself to be biased in discussing. Put simply, your reputation winds up being ruined and soon precedes you wherever you go.

Yesterday, Greenwald promised to really begin taking it to the U.S. and British governments in his reporting. He said that “they will be sorry for what they did.” What they did, the Brits anyway, was stop his husband at Heathrow airport and question him for an extended period of time. In other words, Greenwald believes that the goal of journalism is to settle pissy personal vendettas. It’s very difficult to take the reporting of someone who thinks this way at face value, let alone taking it seriously at all.

What I also really liked about this week’s Newsroom was its willingness to consider the very difficult and necessary question a lot of journalists grapple with every single day, particularly when reporting on stories sure to have negative repercussions: Is it worth it? The conversation between Mac and Keefer at the bar in which Keefer weighs the seismic repercussions of breaking a story like Genoa is one of the most honest journalistic moments I’ve seen yet on the show. Journalism succeeds when it attracts troubled souls, fucked-up lunatics with nothing to lose who live to punch holes in walls, consequences be damned. But never in a million years would you want an entire room full of these kinds of people; the result would be disastrous. Most journalists aren’t asshole nihilists. They’re human beings like everyone else, and as such they get that the information they disclose doesn’t happen in a vacuum; there are often very serious consequences. It’s easy to justify the cause-and-effect of uncovering a criminal act and watching the person behind that act be taken to prison; it’s much harder to rationalize uncovering and reporting on, as Keefer says, the flushing of a Koran down the toilet when you know in advance that it could lead to violence that kills people who had nothing at all to do with that act. It’s a beautifully human moment when Keefer and Mac discuss what they know will be the global fallout from the disclosure of the U.S. using chemical weapons on civilians and ponder whether it serves the greater good to simply keep that Pandora’s Box closed. A journalist is supposed to be dispassionate and put the truth above all, but it’s not always that simple.

Finally, yeah, it smacked of Sorkin once again unfairly concentrating his fire on one of his favorite targets — ditzy, superficial women — but watching Neal destroy the dingbat Ron Paul supporter who worked for MTV brought a smile to my face. I don’t care whether you’re a woman, a man, a single-celled organism, whatever — if you spout the gibberish Gospel of Ron Paul, you don’t deserve to have your political views given too much consideration.

Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.