Where and when Sorkin developed this preposterously Manichean vision of politics is a tantalizing question. One of the highlights of his last backstage-TV show, S tudio 60 On The Sunset Strip, was the busted romance between a cynical atheist TV producer and his evangelical Christian star, reportedly modeled on the real-life relationship between Sorkin and Kristin Chenoweth on the set of The West Wing. Though Sorkin could easily have given himself all the good lines, he instead offered a heartbreaking honest portrayal in which both characters got a fair chance to explain their worldviews. Even The West Wing itself , though making clear where its liberal heart lay, was far more nuanced than The Newsroom.
Sorkin’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of a middle ground in The Newsroom extends far beyond politics. Journalism itself is portrayed as a choice between weighty eat-your-vegetables news and mindless narcissism. You’re either an investigative reporter or a gossip columnist, nothing in between; you can read statistics on Federal Reserve monetary policy or the funny papers, not both. “We don’t do good television, we do the news,” McHale proudly proclaims.
That’s a stunted view of the news, though perhaps not a surprising one from a character who insists her newscast will only run stories that include “information we need in the voting booth.” Word of a hurricane bearing down on your city or a cure for cancer are apparently to be left to less nobly evolved forms of journalism like the Internet.
And need we even discuss the central conceit of The Newsroom, that the problem with cable news is that the anchors aren’t opinionated enough? Surely you’ve often gone to bed at night wondering what Keith Olbermann and Sean Hannity really think behind their stoic masks of objectivity.
If Sorkin’s view of journalism is too Stalinist, his perspective on romance is way too frothy. The Newsroom’s political crusades are conducted against a backdrop of piquant office love affairs styled after quippy 1940s comedies like Adam’s Rib. But Sorkin’s idea of a comic romantic misadventure is when your significant other cheats on you, then sends an email announcing it to everybody in the office. Somebody should tell him that’s not funny; it’s cruel. It’s time we spoke truth to stupid.