July 24, 2013

Aaron Sorkin Isn’t An Objective Reporter

By: Richard Thompson

Spoiler Alert: This column details some of the ways in which Aaron Sorkin writes about last year’s news.

Two episodes into its second season, the HBO drama The Newsroom is looking less and less like an idealist’s hope to restore journalistic integrity and more like writer/creator Aaron Sorkin’s personal quest to spread his leftist views.

The Newsroom’s first season introduced the viewer to Atlantis Cable News anchor Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, and his dog-loyal News Night team. Sorkin presents a changed McAvoy. No longer is Daniels’ character driven by ratings but becomes motivated by a more lofty calling: changing the very face of cable news as an outlet for real debate and not partisan hackery.

Yet as season one progressed, it became clear that noted liberal activist Sorkin was not advocating for a just-the-facts approach to the news but launching a one-sided attack against conservative punditry. It’s hard to avoid the fact that Sorkin sees himself as McAvoy, the quixotic hero hoping to change the way Americans absorb the news. But while McAvoy’s character vies to remove any partisan pandering from his nightly newscasts, Sorkin is all about promoting his leftist agenda through plot and character development. This is seen particularly in his exorbitant downplay of the Tea Party and creeping praise of the Occupy movement.

Episode after episode, McAvoy viciously berates the Tea Party for employing a special brand of conservative extremism. Calling out specific Tea Party members, McAvoy presents the movement as contrary to the country’s founding principles and even out of line with Christian doctrine. The primary ambition of the tea partiers is apparently money, which Sorkin makes abundantly clear through the money-hungry studio executives who seem to care only about the money they receive from the Koch brothers.

McAvoy’s lambasting reaches a boiling point in the final episode of season one when he refers to the Tea Party as the American Taliban on air, a move that ostracizes the network from many of its connections in Washington while presenting McAvoy as a martyr for the sake of truly balanced journalism.

Now, if Sorkin’s mission is to discredit extreme political activism of all kinds then that’s well and good, but to say that he is unconvincing in this tactic is an understatement. His portrayal of McAvoy as a moderate Republican to soften the blow of his one-sided viewpoint is feeble enough to verge on laughable and shouldn’t fool anyone. But it is Sorkin’s affectionate introduction of the Occupy Movement in season 2 that is the cherry on top of the melting sundae.

Occupy Wall Street makes its way into the show’s narrative courtesy of Neal Sampat (Dev Patel), the tech-savvy conspiracy theorist who runs McAvoy’s personal blog while also finding interesting story leads via obscure internet postings and chat rooms. It is through this method that he discovers Occupy, eventually attending meetings and gaining the trust of its leadership.

During his assimilation into the movement, Sampat befriends a female Occupy member, and though this plot line hasn’t fully developed, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to suggest that the two will soon become romantically involved. His outspoken sympathy for her and the direction of the movement seems to echo Sorkin at times. Sampat often tells the girl that Occupy needs to have a stated goal or it will collapse. It’s as if Sorkin is mourning what could have been.

The way that the other characters react to the movement is an even clearer sign of Sorkin’s ideological affiliation. While the newsroom members initially poke fun at Neal for his obsession with the movement, they slowly begin to voice their approval. Even McAvoy reacts positively to Occupy’s cause. After Neal gets arrested for attending an Occupy rally, McAvoy comes to bail him out, giving a fiery speech that is more or less in defense of the movement. Though the Tea Party represented violent fanaticism, Occupy Wall Street is the innocent victim of militant police forces.

Just as the OWS movement itself faded into obscurity, it would seem that the Occupy plot line will soon disappear from the show, but the way Sorkin presents it is nevertheless a striking example of his inclination to glamorize the left while stomping on the right.

Richard Thompson is an intern with the National Journalism Center. Aaron Sorkin image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.