Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Newsroom: On Journalism, the Environment, and Sexism

I just finished watching the final season of The Newsroom as it appears catching up on shows is becoming a personal tradition on the first day of any holiday.  It was a cringe-worthy six hours with a few redeeming story-lines.  Here be ton o' SPOILERS including the fact that it ends with a wedding, a funeral, and a baby - the holy trinity of lazy plot lines.


The themes of the show were timely in that we're discussing media integrity in my class.  But we watched Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land instead.  The Newsroom is a fantasy news show the way The West Wing was a fantasy political show, so we can have higher hopes than is typical.  Unfortunately, we end up disappointed.  They harped on the reality that facts much be checked carefully, and they had one bit of moral soul-searching as Maggie decided against using a scoop she got in an unethical manner all scrunched down in a chair.

But the big message of the season is that social media is full of dangerous lies.  In several episodes they contrast a populist and speedy bit of intel with a more accurate but slow and steady bit to show us how real news must work.  They came across more as flummoxed luddites baffled by the existence of blogs than righteous journalists.  The only social media that seems to exist is the likes of Buzzfeed and Gawker.  There aren't journalist bloggers informing the world, nor are there people live-tweeting events as they happen, and the ACN's twitter feed gets used by a sleepy girl who says stupid things that makes the company look bad.  It's boringly two-dimensional.

Media is changing, but it's not wise to slander all social media with such a broad brush in the hopes that it will send us scurrying to network news channels.  What has to happen now is that we each have to follow well - choose carefully where we get information in the first place.  Then we have to fact check our own sources through multiple credible sources.  AND we have to THINK about what we're reading or watching.  Always with the thinking.  Most people won't do any of that, and they'll stay in the dark, ignorant to world news.  Nothing new.  But, as the show suggests, it can be dangerous if the masses people believe rumours.  Still nothing new.  Even their own newsroom was wrong in the past.  They don't forget that, but they also don't really remember it when it comes to this argument.


Maggie struggles to make the environment interesting and Jim mocks her efforts in the most douchie way possible and makes her beg for his help.  Cute.  She's a top reporter now, but can't find an angle for a major story because we all know the environment is SOOO booorrrring!

The EPA top dog is interviewed, and tells Will of an apocalypse coming within 80 years or so and that he thinks we're doomed no matter what we do now because we've missed our chance to save the day.  Mother Jones fact checked the speech and found the numbers pretty accurate, but the numbers are publicly available and not really the big secret the episode made them out to be.

Grist has this to say,
"There is no line you cross where bad weather becomes a "failure of the planet," such that we'll be able to identify the first person to die from such a failure. It's not going to be that dramatic.  Making it sound like there's going to be some sudden break only makes people blind to the incremental changes already underway. It makes them think climate change is something that might happen, something we might or might no avoid, rather than something that's already underway and has to be managed." 
And both say his level of resignation is not yet necessary.  We still have a fighting chance.  The real EPA still suggests we can save the world by changing the kinds of lightbulbs we use!  It would have been easier done sooner, yes, but it's still possible to slow things down.

But just because it's not as dramatic as a meteor strike doesn't mean it's not newsworthy or interesting.

And then they all moved on and never spoke of it again.


Emily Nussbaum's article in the New Yorker points out that the show is "consistently worried about scurrilous sexual gossip directed at prominent men."  It might be something men fear because it seems to be one of few ways of actually taking them down.  Inside Job painted a portrait of financiers who bring prostitutes on the road with them, but then only the disliked in the group - the ones not playing ball - are actively destroyed by their libido being outed.  I got the sense from that film that it's a normal part of the culture that's dragged out into public forums only if necessary.  It's like the law for open carry - which, in my parts, means having an open case of beer in your trunk.  It's technically illegal, but everyone does it.  But if cops want to arrest you for something else, they can bring you in for that opened case.  If the analogy is remotely accurate, then it's very clever of men to get everyone involved in something they can use against them later!

The show tries with a variety of men and women, but they all still fall into pat and dull stereotypes.  They are many annoyingly dumb men who still have more options and control than their clever female counterparts.  Only the one guy in the group doesn't clue in to the fact that Mac is pregnant.  The  male twin is baffled by anything going on during a billion dollar acquisition.  And all the men are stereotypically fearful of relationships.  I've never actually met an adult man like that in real life, but there are scores of them on TV.

And it seems like most of the women get or keep jobs because of their sexual relationships with the men in the office.

Some superficial attempts at being pro-woman actually make things worse:  Like when Maggie tries to convince Jim to be supportive of his girlfriend even when Hallie just wrote an exposé of their relationship that barely concealed his identity.  Men should be supportive of women no matter what nasty stuff they do.  Or when Will admonishes his cell-mate for hitting a girl.  Of course domestic violence is a horrible crime, and they pointed out this must be his third strike to end up in jail, but Will's speech has something about it that doesn't sit well.  It promotes a chivalry that still allows for more subtle sexism.

Jim got Maggie a job - implying she'd be lost without him - but then he tried to save her from leaving by offering her a promotion.  At least she chose to leave anyway, and he supported her.  There's that; so she didn't waste her time training him to support women for nothing (a necessary move because he's so dumb). Then a male subordinate is told of his female boss' promotion before the boss - who only hears about it as the subordinate announces it!  When would anything like that ever happen?

And then there's the weird chat Don and a rape victim have in her dorm room.  But that's been talked about all over the interwebs.  The moral is to never judge anyone until after s/he's been to court.  Reporters shouldn't interview anybody whose words could damage someone who hasn't officially been charged with a crime, even if they're unlikely to ever be charged.  Well, unless they're rich and powerful.  But if a girl has been assaulted, and went to the police, and no arrests were made, then she should just be quiet about it.  Only a judge can determine if a crime was committed. Once again, things can't be left to the court of public opinion.  The right people have to tell us what to think, not teach us how to think for ourselves.

And then there was...

- a Human Resources officer following around a dating couple to prove they're dating, threatening to separate them, because, it turns out, he thought it would be funny.  He was actually a fan of their awesome love  (or something like that).  And he apparently had nothing else to do with his days.  And this was after doing nothing about an employee who openly admitted to sleeping with many women on staff which was clearly causing problems in the office.

- an ethic professor who is totally clueless about personal discretion - but was sensitive enough to  somehow recognize that Maggie is really in love with Jim even though there's zero chemistry between them.

- a brilliant lawyer turned journalist who can't, for the life of him, remember anybody's name, but doesn't think it would be a problem to refer to people by racist names as a fill-in.

- an executive producer who ties her hair back whenever there's work to be done, but always leave the front bit in her face and often right in front of her eyes - the bit that would typically be the whole point of tying it back in the first place.  

- a newsroom dedicated to integrity, but quick to hide a friend who commits a felony.

After all this, it was entertaining.  It just wasn't excellent entertainment.    

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