S1E9, The Blackout Part Two – The Great Debates

McAvoy and MacKenzie’s relationship is slowly leading towards either a total make-up or complete disintegration, Don is finally getting the message about how Maggie feels for Jim, Neal and Sloan have worked their way into upper-level journalist ranks, and Terry Crews is still a recurring character (every now and then, at least).

Now that I’ve gotten the story-related plot point of The Newsroom’s ninth episode out of the way, I can focus on what I’m really interested in: the “new debate format” suggested by McAvoy and the rest of the News Night team.

The mock debate scene from The Newsroom's ninth episode.

The mock debate scene from The Newsroom’s ninth episode.

 

A few months back, sometime before I started my Mass Media class with Professor Dunphy, a friend of mine shared the mock debate scene from this episode on Facebook. At the time, I had no idea who any of the characters were, why they were all pretending to be the potential Republican presidential candidates, or what The Newsroom even was. Now, months later, I know all about the show and its characters. Despite this newfound knowledge, I didn’t feel any different watching the scene a second time around.

This is something that really stand out to me. If we’re not supposed to be looking at the characters or anything onscreen, it’s pretty clear that Sorkin wants us to look deeper, at something beyond the composition of the shot.

To me, this debate format is amazing and horrifying at the same time. As I get older, I pay more attention to the way politicians speak and how the questions they’re asked by the media differ greatly compared to the questions the average everyday person has. Most of the time, the questions asked by the media (radio and television news shows, talk shows, etc.) are somewhat vauge and can be answered in a very broad way. Especially when it comes to presidential elections, Q&A sessions and debates become very long-winded and very repetitive very quickly. The people asking the questions don’t get to the point, nor do they speak like human beings. They spit the questions out as if they’re coming from a robot, almost never sounding natural.

McAvoy, MacKenzie and the rest of the team have devised a formula that breaks all of these habits. Not only does McAvoy get straight to the point and not waste a single breath by beating around the bush, but he stops the candidates when they don’t answer the questions, constantly switches between various subject matter and topics to keep everyone on their toes, and even confronts some candidates on a personal, real, human level (asking about sexual and racial stereotyping scandals, for example).

In the episode, the representative from the Republican National Committee isn’t please at all by what McAvoy is offering, but his boyhood friend working alongside the representative does see the positive points about this new debate format. For one thing, McAvoy and his friend agree that if the candidates are going to be running for the position of the president of the United States they should be able to answer questions in this manner. What they’ll have to do in office will no doubt be much more urgent and serious than being completely honest with the American public. Even more on honesty, McAvoy’s debate style doesn’t allow for any freedom to beat around the bush or to be untruthful–the candidates are stopped when they’re not answering the question asked by the moderator and called out when they’re stating incorrect information (again, by the moderator, not by themselves).

I did find it interesting that most other reviews of this episode didn’t feel that the mock debates worked very well in bringing anything new to the table. Since the Republican pre-primaries (and the entire presidential election process) has obviously already passed, it’s pretty clear that the Republicans “still ended up seeing through all those guys and nominating the one who, judging from the lack of abuse he’s taken on The Newsroom, seems to be the one Sorkin views as least evil.” (Newsroom Episode Nine Recap)

I don’t think it’s clear if the kind of debate method presented in episode nine of The Newsroom could ever work. It brings a lot to the table, but also takes some away. By giving the moderator complete control over the pacing, topics and subjects of the deabtes with no limitations or off-limits questions, it seems that stings step backwards just as much as they step forwards. There needs to be some form of order in the court while maintaing the ability to stay on topic and on point (cut the fat).

Because this new debate style is presented in such an interesting way that leaves the audience really comparing and contrasting our real-life system to a fictional system, this episode gets a 5/5 (and yes, that rating is completely disregarding the silly emotional/relationship side of the episode–mainly because I’m rather sick of it now). Here’s hoping McAvoy finds a way to get his pants on in the Season One finale!

Did I forget to mention that? There was a silly recurring joke all episode about Will's "pants problem." It reminded me of Ted Striker's "drinking problem" from Airplane.

Did I forget to mention that? There was a silly recurring joke all episode about Will’s “pants problem.” It reminded me of Ted Striker’s “drinking problem” from Airplane.

 

Reference:

The Newsroom Episode Nine Recap, Jeff Bercovici

About Daniel

Daniel is a graduate of CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College, summa cum laude with a B.A. in Film Production and TV/Radio. He can be reached via his website, www.passingplanes.com. The Utopia of Daniel was his college blog and he has since transitioned to posting on other sites.