On Aaron Sorkin And “The Newsroom”‘s Woman Problem

Being an Aaron Sorkin fan runs in my blood. My mom might have been the world’s biggest “West Wing” fan. Although I was too young to really understand the show when it was on the air, I’ve since gone back and watched and loved almost the whole series. Granted, when I watched “The West Wing” I was sure that I would grow up and become a real-life C.J., so why I liked it could be questioned. Maybe it just gave me my political junkie fix or maybe I finally felt like I found a place where people talked faster than me.

As I’ve grown up however, I’ve traded my political ambitions for more journalistic ones. And, apparently, so has Aaron Sorkin. Which is why I was more than happy to watch his newest show “The Newsroom.” (Spoiler alerts ahead!)

“The Newsroom” focuses on the fictional program “News Night” hosted by anchor Will McAvoy. In the first episode Will (played by Jeff Daniels), goes on a tirade at a college journalism panel about how America is no longer the greatest country in the world. He returns from his subsequent three week vacation on some Caribbean island with a hot model to discover that almost all of his news team has left him, and that a new team, including Executive Producer MacKenzie — who I believe is a former love interest — has been put in place without his knowledge.

The weirdest thing about the show is that each episode centers around coverage of a real news event in the rather recent past. The first episode highlights the BP oil spill and how “News Night” becomes the only cable news station to cover the story in its entirety, thanks to a few sources secured by new Senior Producer Jim Harper. (Who, on an unrelated note, should have probably gotten a name that sounded less like Jim Halpert from “The Office.”) All in all, the way that the story develops in the newsroom gave me a weird feeling. I was torn between hoping that the team made the right decision and covered the story, and also feeling frustrated that I already knew the outcome of certain questions the team was asking. I mean, of course Will should have believed Jim that the people at BP couldn’t cap the well. But I guess hindsight is 20/20.

While I walked away with an overall positive feeling towards “The Newsroom,” thanks to some great moments of Sorkin genius, there were other things I could have lived with out.

First of all, in a totally ego-stroking way, I got to seem way cool in front of my friends for my inside news knowledge. As someone who hopes to produce TV news one day and has had a few internships in the field, I was hoping this would happen. In the episode, no one wants to cover the BP oil spill story because it pops up as a yellow-colored news alert in the computer software iNews. I took that moment to explain to my friends, who probably really didn’t care at all, how iNews works and why no one should ever pay attention to yellow alerts, but that this one was clearly going to be turning red soon. Which, for the record, it did at the end of the episode.

I also really loved the general talk of the optimistic, world-changing potential of the news. When Mackenzie is trying to convince Will that she should stay at her brand new job, she tells him that they have the potential to change the democratic debate in America by producing a good news show that will keep citizens engaged. And, as a hopeful future journalist, I believe what she says, even though I know there are a million things that could stand in their way.

But, with all the “hope and promise” jargon that Sorkin has his characters fire off at rapid speed, there come some problematic moments in “The Newsroom” as well. The Sorkin female archetypes of “hot lower level girl who has a love life” and “power chick who doesn’t have time for anything but her job” are definitely visible through out the episode. Within the first 20 minutes, cute blonde Maggie Jordan, who is dating “News Night”s’ former Executive Producer, is promoted from assistant to associate producer — but when asked to write a simple memo her boyfriend offers to do it for her. When she refuses his help, he reminds her in a condescending manner that she is not allowed to use Wikipedia as a research source.

Conversely, MacKenzie has just gotten back from years reporting out of war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jim reveals that she has a scar on her stomach from an encounter with a Jihadist protest, and it is clear that she has no time to play games, just time to produce the news. She and Will share a mildly romantic moment at the end of the episode, when she tells him that although he probably doesn’t remember the first time he met her parents, that she thought he was perfect in the way he went about it. He recites word for word conversations he had with her father, and then promptly disappears in an elevator before any real connection between the two of them can happen. But by far the worst moment of sexisim on the show has to be when Maggie successfully delivers a guest to MacKenzie and MacKenize exclaims “I’m going to take you shopping!” as a token of her gratitude. While these characterizations shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has watched Sorkin’s work before, they do come off as sexist.

Regardless of the questionable portrayal of the female characters, I have hope for “The Newsroom.” It was fast-paced in all the right ways and I will love to see how they continue to cover news stories I remember happening in my lifetime. Although “The Newsroom” has been rather harshly criticized by people whose job it is to care about those sorts of things, I see it as a true Aaron Sorkin work … if only because it’s full of fast talkers and long hallways.

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