The Newsroom Posts Archive

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More Than Great Legs – Sloan Sabbith Character Study

If there’s one character that really stands out to me on Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, it’s Sloan Sabbith. Played by the devilishly gorgeous Olivia Munn, Sloan is the only female character that has a truly complete character arc in the first season. As she transitions from a shy, socially awkward college girl to a dominating force and true student of honest news and investigative journalism, the audience has the chance to learn, grow and experience News Night alongside her.

A stunningly beautiful actress, comedian and Atlantis Cable News personality!

A stunningly beautiful actress, comedian and Atlantis Cable News personality!

 

When The Newsroom began, Sloan really wasn’t an integral part of any single story. At first, I assumed that she was a lower-level staffer on the News Night team, someone who was there to fact check and work out statistics and data. Since she was thrown in the corner and wasn’t given any real screen time, I didn’t think anything else was possible. Don even called her his “fourth and only choice”  when he needed her to fill in another newscaster’s time slot in one of the first episodes. As the season progressed however, people like McAvoy and MacKenzie started letting the audience know how smart she really was–who knew that she received a PhD in Economics at Duke University and studied under some of the country’s greatest economic minds!?

After being acknowledged as News Night’s Senior Financial Reporter, Sloan was given five minutes every night to “tell us where we are and how we got here” by MacKenzie. At this point in the show, the audience really started getting to know Sloan as a female professional in the American broadcast television workplace. Compassionate, quirky and knowledgable, Sloan captured the attention of a lot of ACN people very quickly. She was given more tasks to discuss the state of the economy and was asked to cover more stories, occasionally being allowed to fill in for missing reporters.

The most notable instance where she filled in for someone else was during the Fukushima power plant meltdown.At this point in the show, Sloan had really only focused on financial stories and helping MacKenzie try to better understand economics for a speech she had to give. Always helpful and always eager to learn, Sloan didn’t back down–she accepted the story and made the egregious mistake of using off-the-record information on live television. This is one of the parts of the show that I remember the most, specifically because it’s such an honest human error. When I worked for the Queens Chronicle newspaper, I spoke to assemblymen and local politicians off the record multiple times, and it was always hard to hear them say things to me that they didn’t necessarily say in public. No matter how much journalists would like to publish or broadcast everything they hear off-the-record, they simply can’t–it’s a matter of not only ethics and principle, but legal responsibility and overal believability.

In Sloan’s case, she caused panic in Japan based on information that hadn’t been formally released yet. Although she thought she would save lives and prove that the nuclear plant and government was not being truthful in their assessments of the meltdown level at the plant, she caused more problems than fixed them. It’s moments like this that remind the audience that everyone makes mistakes. Sloan was still learning how to do the news and do it well, and it’s safe to say that she learned a lot from that experience. Thankfully for her, McAvoy and Skinner loved her too much to let her get fired, so they had her lie (one of the only times they allowed a blatant lie to be aired) to save her job and the honor of the Japanese spokesperson she quoted.

In a video interview with Munn, she said that newsworthy is defined as something that the people “need to know.” Even during and after het worst mistake, Sloan was only thinking about the people and what they needed to know.

 

By the end of the show, Sloan had become extremely comfortable with live reporting. So much so that we would often only catch the ending of her segments on the economy and finances today. When it reached that point that MacKenzie, McAvoy and Skinner were confident that she knew what she was doing and how to get it done right, they didn’t have to watch her do it anymore.

As for Sloan’s social life, she also stood out to me as a character that went from a state of total social awkwardness to emotional understanding and bravery. In the first half of season one, she was always trying to help McAvoy, Don and MacKenzie with emotional issues and problems. Even though she didn’t have a boyfriend herself (or any real relationship experience at all, for that matter), she did her best to answer the questions of her coworkers and friends. I can really connect to this, because I’ve been helping friends with relationship problems and dating issues ever since the start of high school even though I’ve never really been involved in a relationship myself. Most people would think that this would limit the amount of help you can give, but I find that when you listen to everyone else’s problems and experiences, you’re able to form a database of knowledge that you can access to help others–and I definitely see Sloan accessing hers.

Always watching and always learning, Sloan has carried herself through one hectic season of work for News Night.

Always watching and always learning, Sloan has carried herself through one hectic season of work for News Night.

 

Towards the second half of the season, Sloan began standing up for what she thought was right. She began telling people like McAvoy, Neal and Don how she felt about them and what they should really think of themselves. In Don’s case, Sloan was courageous enough to say that she was “only single because [Don] never asked [her] out,” which was no doubt a hugh emotional boundary for her to jump. Although this did finalize her character’s emotional arc and bring her into a new stage of bravery and honesty, I did find it odd that she admitted this when she never really displayed any feelings or affection towards Don throughout the show. Don had asked her questions about problems with Maggie before, but Sloan only helped him as much as she did everyone else. Since she never gave Don any special attention or praise, it makes the audience wonder why she feels the way she does for a guy that really isn’t all that great.

Since she admitted to turning down an annual salary of four million dollars with a financial firm to serve the country and the News Night team, Sloan has clearly grown attached to the people involved in the News Night team. If I were her, I would stay with the News Night 2.0 team, too. Through the bonds she’s developed and trust she’s gained as the Senior Financial Reporter, Sloan is definitely learning that some things in life mean more than money and notoriety (cliche, sure, but Sloan absolutely displays this level of understanding by the final episode). Compared to other women on the show like Maggie and MacKenzie, Sloan comes off as smarter, sexier and more dominating (both physically and verbally) than anyone else. Getting thrown up against the wall by Sloan after calling her butt big must’ve been some experience, Neal!

For Sloan’s character in season two, I really hope to see her continuously becoming a more important, dominating force on the News Night team. As she takes on more stories and projects and continues to work under and alongside McAvoy and MacKenzie, I’m fairly confident that she’s on the straight path to success. Even if News Night were to fail or be cancelled, I don’t think there’s any doubt that a financial company (investing, marketing, actuarial services, etc.) would hire her in a heart beat.

Ms. Sabbith, you’re one strong women. If there’s anything I have to say to you, it’s keep your eyes clear and your heart open. You’re smart enough to know (on book-smart and street-smart levels) when someone or something is good for you and when that same person or thing is bad for you, and that kind of knowledge mixed with a PhD from Duke and McAvoy’s tutelage will take you places. Stay beautiful, sistah.

 

References:

HBO’s The Newsroom – Sloan Sabbith, HBO Website

@SloanSabbithACN, Twitter

The Newsroom Season One, Episodes One – Ten

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“We Told the News” – The Newsroom Season One Reflection

I worked in a newsroom once. Only it was called “The War Room” in my case. It wasn’t for a televised news show like Atlantis Cable News, but for the Queens Chronicle, the most widely read and distributed print newspaper in Queens.

During my time at the QC, I leaned a lot about print journalism, advertising, marketing and bureaucracy. I got to experience all different kinds of events and occurrences, from the Wiener scandals and Queens-based political campaigns to NYPD raids and health care festivals. All the while, I was meeting new people, both journalists I worked with at the QC and reporters from other papers.

Despite all of the aforementioned benefits of working on a very popular and widely-read newspaper, there are a few things that I never saw or heard take place: in-office relationships, verbal wars with publishers/the media gatekeepers, and scandalous choices to publish controversial news stories, just to list a few examples. Others who have worked in newsrooms (and even other workplaces) have experienced one or two of these things here and there, but I’ve never seen or heard of anyone who saw them all pile up together.

This all leads me to pretty much the main thing I dislike about The Newsroom: its unrealistic nature. Despite its accurate representation of various people, politicians and corporate bigwigs, Aaron Sorkin’s show has proven time and time again that all it is is a fictional television show meant to draw in an audience and entertain. For any television show this is pretty much necessary for survival, and I completely understand that. But for a show that goes to great lengths to convey messages about the current state of investigative journalism and the US fourth estate as well as the nation’s interpretation of what purpose television serves in society today, I wonder why so much of it stands out as unreal.

The Newsroom perfectly portrays life in a bustling news room. Go figure!

The Newsroom perfectly portrays life in a bustling news room.

 

Take for example the way characters talk to one another. There’s not enough fumbling with words! There’s never a loss for some great emotional revelation or realization about why we humans do what we do (why we love who we love, hate who we hate, side with who we side with, etc). Even in the cases of the love triangles (McAvoy and MacKenzie, and Maggie, Jim, Don and Sloan) there’s never a point where things stop and nothing is said. There’s always something going on, and the rapid pace of these relationships almost never slows.

These relationships are also the only other thing that I think works against the show. In real life, love triangles and quadrangles like the ones portrayed on The Newsroom are simply too perfect. Throughout the first season, I always had issues in believing that Maggie continuously wanted to stay with Don even though Jim offered her so much more love and respect. Granted, Jim continuously chose to stay with Lisa, so it wouldn’t have really mattered what Maggie chose anyway.

These kinds of crazy triangles not only draw attention to the way The Newsroom tries to appeal to viewers of soap operas, but it detracts from the intelligence these women are supposed to have. They’re all double and triple major college and graduate school scholars who, despite all of their collective knowledge, continuously make such ridiculous relationship and emotional choices. I can understand that they’re socially awkward and even inept at times, but being lulled into a false sense of security and love by a room full of flowers and light candles just wouldn’t work after going through countless stand-ups, multiple missed dinners with parents, continuos verbal abuse and overall emotional stress (this particular example is taken from the final episode, where Maggie and Don have one final make-up session).

Some other plot points like McAvoy smoking pot before going on air and Jim having sing-along music sessions with coworkers outside of the always-heated office space just add to the ridiculousness of certain aspects of the show. Critics like Dorothy Rabinowitz of The Wall Street Journal, Mary MacNamara of the L.A. Times and Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker all seem to agree that The Newsroom has tremendous potential, but due to its often silly dialouge and plot points, plus a semi-unrealistic nature, it falters on multiple levels.

A Newsroom bingo card with just about every cliche/pun/repetitious act the show uses.

A Newsroom bingo card with just about every cliche/pun/repetitious act the show uses.

 

Regardless, let’s look at The Newsroom from the scope of it being a drama television show and nothing more. It does a fantastic job of telling the story of a team of investigative journalists who want nothing more than to tell the news. Many characters were written well and had a very clear and serious arc (even if the arc wasn’t integral to the core story, like Neal going from being a shy office nerd to standing up for what he believes in and taking chances with the News Night producers).

Even with debatable arcs and sub-plots like Don transitioning from a “bad guy” to a “good guy” throughout the first season (I personally think he went from a “bad guy” to a “self-aware bad guy,” but to each his/her own), I still found the show very enjoyable. Viewers were able to relive important events in the US’ past few years in a new way, looking at them from the eyes of reporters who attempt to report as objectively as possible. We were transported directly into an American workplace where things didn’t always go as planned, people sometimes got hurt, and there was always a new issue to deal with.

Watching a show like a television show should be was also refreshing–meaning that I only watched The Newsroom once a week for the ten weeks. Nowadays, everything is about instant gratification and being able to do anything you want whenever you want. So to be able to relax and take the time to really critique and review the show has been a positive media experience to say the least.

The news desk is left open for a whole series of sub-plots and stories in the show's second season. Here's hoping it takes the best of the first season and only makes it better!

The news desk is left open for a whole series of sub-plots and stories in the show’s second season. Here’s hoping it takes the best of the first season and only makes it better!

 

To complete the ‘fan service package,’ I’m a massive fan of how perfectly The Newsroom ended its first season: just enough was revealed to satiate, but just enough was left open to keep viewers coming back for more. As I think more and more about what I’d like to see during the second season (which I intend to try and watch online since my family doesn’t own cable–ironic, since it’s to watch a show about a cable news network), I keep coming back to my desire to see the show develop into less of a romantic dramedy and more of a well-balanced personal and interpersonal exploration of the media and its influence in everyday life.

Besides that, hopefully Don and Sloan will get together (a really unexpected plot twist, might I add), McAvoy and MacKenzie will become the perfect news duo and couple, Skinner will continue to fight for justice in the ranks of William Paley (and avenge the self-inflicted death of his newfound friend, Hancock), Leona will agree to work with Skinner and McAvoy (or at least allow them to survive), Sorkin will learn how to better write women in screenplays, and the show will do one heck of a job at representing the honest and true viewpoints behind Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential elections (a topic I’m very excited to see analyzed and discussed).

My overall Newsroom season one rating: 7.5 out of 10 Dunphys. Well done, Mr. Sorkin. =u)

And thank you for the experience, Professor Dunphy! This last clip is for you (it describes how I felt after finishing my blog posts):

 

References:

The Newsroom Season One Reviews Collection, MetaCritic (full online collection)

The Newsroom Season One WSJ Preview, Dorothy Rabinowitz

The Newsroom Season One LA Times Review, Mary McNamara

The Newsroom Season One New Yorker Review, Emily Nussbaum

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S1E10, The Greater Fool – Good Night, And Hire Her

In the finale of it’s first season, The Newsroom’s two sides come full circle. The first side of the show revolves around the emotional, mental and physical relationships between office couples (mainly McAvoy and MacKenzie, Maggie and Jim, and Maggie and Don). The second side of the show revolves around what the word “news” really means, and how it’s constantly influenced by people, power and politics (not only in the government, but in the corporations and networks that run the news shows).

In past episodes, Aaron Sorkin (creator of The Newsroom) has clearly had a hard time balancing the two sides out. Sometimes, an episode would focus almost entirely on the relationship side and not pay any attention to the actual ACN News Night newsroom. “News Night 2.0” and “The 112th Congress” are two examples. These were the episodes that I had the hardest time paying attention to, as well as the ones that I found most critics and reviewers calling more of a romantic comedy sitcom than a fictional narrative about news in our non-fictional world.

On the other hand, some episodes focused much more on the news and the powers that are always influencing it. Episodes like “Amen” and “We Got Him” did this, and I definitely preferred them to episodes that focused mainly on relationships. Despite that fact, I found myself having a hard time connecting to the characters and getting into their mindset, or becoming emotionally involved with them. So it was clear to me from early on that Sorkin’s biggest challenge would be balancing these two sides out.

“The Greater Fool” accomplishes this perfectly. I was admittedly a little confused about where the episode was headed in the beginning, mainly while we were jumping between McAvoy reporting on air and McAvoy in his apartment bathroom, bleeding out. However as the gap between the two places in time decreased, motives behind this story structure became more clear.

Will McAvoy: The Greater Fool. The seasone one finale investigates just what that caption really means.

Will McAvoy: The Greater Fool. The seasone one finale investigates just what that caption really means.

 

One critic, Lesley Goldberg of The Hollywood Reporter, said that the biggest reveals of this episode were on the relationship side. On her list of the top six reveals of the episode, she included McAvoy’s message about him still loving MacKenzie, Jim and Maggie finally kissing, Maggie and Don moving in together, and Don figuring out that Sloan is still single because he never asked her out. (The Hollywood Reporter Six Biggest Reveals List) These were definitely the emotional high points of the show, but I’m more interested in the news-related high points.

For one thing, the article about McAvoy and the News Night team written by MacKenzie’s old boyfriend was finally released. In it, McAvoy was called “the greater fool,” which he originally thought of as an insult. After fighting to not only keep an honest news show afloat in the middle of a world filled with TMZ and The Real Housewives of New Jersey look-alikes, but attempting to change the Republican primary debate format, alter the way that ACN operates, and going on a “mission to civilize,” McAvoy thinks that maybe he is just a fool.

Sloan eventually steps in and explains that “the greater fool” is an economic term used to described people who think outside the box and break free of the popular norm. It’s “someone with the perfect blend of self delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was made by greater fools.” After that, McAvoy not only has a renewed feeling for himself and what the entire News Night team is doing, but he’s proud of Sloan and the person that she’s become after having worked there.

Another big news-related high point of the episode was the confrontation of the gatekeepers of ACN. After Skinner’s newfound friend Solomon commits suicide, Skinner knows that what he was telling him about was 100% truthful (the illegal hacking of cell phones by Leona’s son). Armed with that knowledge, he led McAvoy and MacKenzie on a mission to put Leona and her son in their place while trying their best to get them to work with the News Night team and “start producing the news again.” Instead of focusing on lying, celebrity slander stories and making more money than anyone would ever need, all the three want to do is provide the American people with the news, the whole news, and nothing but the news.

McAvoy, MacKenzie and Skinner appear to have succeeded in keeping those pesky gatekeepers at bay. Will it stay the same way next season?

McAvoy, MacKenzie and Skinner appear to have succeeded in keeping those pesky gatekeepers at bay. Will it stay the same way next season?

 

The one other plot point that needs to be discussed is the reintroduction of “sorority girl” into the show. Since The Newsroom quite literally began with her being assaulted by McAvoy, it’s fantastic to see it end (the first season) with her wanting to work for/alongside him. The best way to be a fool is to learn from one, and that’s the reasoning she uses to get McAvoy to hire her on the spot. In a review on the media criticism site Zap2It, Carina MacKenzie writes that “[‘sorority girl’s’] obviously got some cojones, and her arrival at ACN is definitely a sign that despite his struggles, Will has made a difference in the time since he first met her.” (Zap2It Newsroom Finale Review) It’s going to be very interesting to see what influence she’ll have on McAvoy and the rest of the team.

It’s season finales like this that really prove to me that great television show writing still exists. Many problems were solved and their solutions revealed, but there are still plenty of things left unsaid. Will McAvoy and MacKenzie ever get back together? Will Sloan stay with the network and become the next McAvoy (or will “sorority girl” take her place)? Will ACN clean up its act and become the leading force in the Fourth Estate? All of these and more will hopefully be answered in season two, but this finale holds up extremely well regardless. The combination of relationships reaching their emotional and mental climaxes with the News Night team telling the true stories of Americans like Dorothy Cooper and kicking some gatekeeper ass while doing it works extremely well.

Enough has happened that us viewers would be content if the show were to end here, and at the same time enough has been left unsaid that we would come back for a second season. Getting an ending so, so right is enough for me to give any show’s season finale episode a 6/5 (yep, 6/5) rating.

Here’s to season two!

 

References:

The Hollywood Reporter Six Biggest Reveals List, Lesley Goldberg

Zap2It Newsroom Finale Review, Carina MacKenzie

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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

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S1E8, The Blackout Part One – Comic Timing

As I continue the watch The Newsroom, I’m starting to realize that even though McAvoy, MacKenzie, Jim, Sloan and the rest of the News Night team are trying to do amazing things for the worlds of live news broadcasting and television, they’re just characters. They’re part of a show that’s beginning to focus more on staying alive through what’s popular rather than telling a serious, innovative, new story. Don’t get me wrong, the show has done quite a bit of honest storytelling in the past, but as I watch it more and more I realize how much The Newsroom is really changing.

Episode eight strays away from the theme of each episode focusing in on one single major news event. Rather, it focuses on a bunch of little events, both serious and silly, factual and fictional. From Congressman Wiener and his scandalous Twitter photos to the very serious upcoming debates for presidential hopefuls, the News Night crew navigates through it all.

The reason everyone is starting to focus on the silly news is because ratings dropped tremendously after the show chose not to cover the Casey Anthony story. McAvoy and Skinner know that they’ll have to get ratings back up in order to One, not get fired and booted from the air completely and Two, to have the number of viewers needed to be a host of the upcoming debates for presidential candidates. These two factoids are all the team needs to hear to get working on stories that really don’t deserve much attention at all.

A very unhappy trio dealing with the sad fact that they'll have to deal with what they hate to get what they want.

A very unhappy trio dealing with the sad fact that they’ll have to deal with what they hate to get what they want.

 

This change in interest definitely makes sense in the real world, but I don’t seem to understand how so many viewers would have navigated away from McAvoy for such a news story. Jack Mirkinson of The Huffington Post posits the question, “If Will has been airing very high-minded shows for a year and his ratings have held up, why would they suddenly crater because of the trial? Surely the people who watched him would have learned to turn to him because he was offering an alternative.” (Huffington Post Newsroom Episode Eight Review) This is exactly how I felt when I heard the news about viewers switching channels (and I don’t believe that the fact that the Casey Anthony story was nationwide, “hot news,” because true fans of McAvoy would trust in him to filter out the garbage and focus on the serious).

As the episode goes on, viewers are introduced to another sub-plot involving a whistle blower from the NSA. The man who told Skinner about the infamous email regarding Osama Bin Laden’s death last episode shows up in person to discuss the information he has to share and under what conditions he’ll do so. It felt like watching a political crime drama film when this scene was on, which I thought was a little out of place for the show. Adding in mystery and cliffhangers for future episodes is fine, but throwing in a whole other genre of storytelling just seemed quite jarring.

The main scene that stood out to me was the one that Scott Ryan focuses on in his review of the episode on The Red Room Podcast: “The scene that should be watched and rewatched was when Don picked apart a Nancy Grace newscast. Showing you bit by bit how they manipulate the viewer, mostly women viewers.” (The Red Room Podcast Review) It’s an extremely interesting experience to see things from the producers point of view, specifically a producer from a show that manipulates viewers. It’s also quite sad to know that so many people, too many, are focused with drawing in viewers to sell products better and have higher ratings than conducting honest television shows and being truthful.

Since we’re left on a cliff hanger at the end of the episode, right after God responds to the prayers of the entire News Night team and causes a blackout (it’s implied that way, haha), not too much is tied up. Besides the conflict in interest between puff pieces / slander stories and serious, legitimate news, Sorkin also does his best to continue to add to the emotional, romantic aspect of the show by introducing MacKenzie’s other ex-boyfriend into the picture (the one she cheated on McAvoy with). As anyone can imagine, this opens up tons of awkward possibilities for character development. So far, all the audience knows is that McAvoy selected MacKenzie’s other ex for a reason, but even he’s not completely sure what that reason is yet.

MacKenzie caught in the middle of ex-boyfriend number one and ex-boyfriend number two. Awkward...

MacKenzie caught in the middle of ex-boyfriend number one and ex-boyfriend number two. Awkward…

 

In the second part of this episode, I hope to see McAvoy and MacKenize figure out a way to stand up for what they both know each other believes in while ensuring the return of their viewers. It’s a tough situation that has no easy resolution, but to have McAvoy cave into the crap that he’s been fighting the whole season so easily just won’t work. Maybe the laid-back McAvoy in this episode will be countered by a hyped-up, steadfast McAvoy in the next! This one gets a 3/5, since it’s only half of the full story (the rest of which I’m excited for).

References:

The Red Room Podcast Episode Eight Review, Scott Ryan 

The Huffington Post Episode Eight Review, Jack Mirkinson

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S1E7, 5/1 – We Got Him

The Newsroom only gets more and more powerful and moving as the first season progresses, tackling extremely controversial and important issues and events in the United States (while balancing relationships and character development for the audience to experience in the mix). In episode seven, the News Night team struggles to figure out what the president is going to announce after it’s announced that he’ll be making an announcement.

Yes, that last sentence was a fun sentence to write, but episode seven of The Newsroom ends up focusing on something that’s far from funny: the death of Osama Bin Laden.

After McAvoy and Jim have a ridiculously corny sing-along at a party to celebrate the one-year anniversary of “news night 2.0,” the mood is broken up by an email sent to the entire news team about President Obama preparing to make an announcement to the US. Just like in past episodes, every single person stops what they’re doing and shifts into high gear to try and figure out what the announcement will be so they can report about it before the president actually announces it.

I mean, come on now. This is just silly, even for McAvoy's randomness!

I mean, come on now. This is just silly, even for McAvoy’s randomness.

 

Minus a sub-plot about an outside contact with some government organization getting in touch with Skinner and proving his worthiness by making him aware of the president’s intention to make an announcement, the majority of the episode focuses on what news is trust worthy and when to report what is believed to be true. Through a series of other stories being reported about Bin Laden being killed, the team pretty much assumes that that’s what has happened. However, due to the fact that Charlie once reported incorrect information when he was a reporter  and human deaths were a result of that incorrect information, he refuses to allow ACN to air the news until a confirmation is given from inside the government.

As this is going on, Sloan, Don and Elliot, the reporter who was injured in during the Egyptian riots of a previous episode, are trapped on a plane that isn’t able to attach to a bay to unload passengers. As they receive word of what’s going on via smartphone emails and phone calls, they struggle harder and harder to find a way off the plane without causing a serious panic. The parts of the episode where these three try and negotiate with the stewardess are hands-down the funniest and most interesting. Not only does this sub-plot tackle the fact that there are reasons to a lot of these seemingly-ridiculous bureaucratic processes and rules (Don falling down after standing up on the plane), but it also explores the fact that a lot of people don’t understand that there are honest, hard-working, American faces and bodies behind the rigid workplace facades most people have.

In that sense, Don is taken aback when the pilot is called out of the cockpit to address his disorderliness. Don can only have respect for a man who serves the US in multiple senses, and he takes great pleasure in delivering the news that Osama Bin Laden was killed by American forces earlier that night (at that point in the episode, it was just about confirmed with multiple news networks reporting on it).

A similar occurrence takes place in the news room when two police officers who were escorting Terry Crews’ character to McAvoy’s office (to make sure that he really was with a personal security agency) are addressed as more than just semi-steriotypial, brute cops. McAvoy whispers to Crews the news about Bin Laden, and in turn tells him that he should be the one to tell the police.

Charlie discusses the pros and cons of announcing that Osama Bin Laden was killed before the president actually announced it.

Charlie discusses the pros and cons of announcing that Osama Bin Laden was killed before the president actually announced it.

 

I find it strange that the death of someone (more so the fact that he was shot and killed by American soldiers) can bring such a large amount of people together. Usually deaths tend to have a semi-negative effect on people, but since this is Osama Bin Laden, the man who decimated hundreds of American citizens in an attack on our own soil, it has a reverse effect.

In Matt Richenthal’s review of episode seven on the TVFanatic website, he argues that this episode is one of those episodes that’s either loved or hated. “From the perspective of a television critic, and not a native New Yorker reflecting on everything associated with that date, it all felt unbelievably cheap.” Richenthal feels that the emotional story tactics in this specific episode of The Newsroom really don’t have much to do with the show at all. If viewers feel emotional about Don informing pilots about Bin Laden’s death or Crews doing the same for NYC police officers, they feel it because of the fact that it’s all stemmed from the very real and tragic events of 9/11, not the show’s writing or story arc.

It is interesting to think of things that way, because although I enjoyed watching the episode, it didn’t really stem from anything in the episode. As I really think about why I felt the way I did after finished “5/1,” it was because of the true events that took place on 9/11 and 5/1, when Bin Laden was announced as an EKIA. The episode was a platform to convey those emotions, and for that reason along, I give Sorkin and the show credit.

The Hollywood Reporter stated that many real-world reporters didn’t like this episode for a lot of the technicalities that should’ve have been minor plot points, but were milked for cheap laughs and emotional moments (i.e., Will getting high and being allowed to go on air). “[The death of Bin Laden is] an incredibly charged subject for most Americans. And yet somehow the show’s final minutes are resoundingly flat.” This is very true in that the show got less and less creative as the episode neared its conclusion. Maybe Aaron Sorkin would argue that a story didn’t need to be created–it was supposed to be about the real events and paying tribute to the way people felt and acted on that night. However I do feel that there could have been more creative ways to go about telling the story than getting McAvoy high and having another relationship/love-quadway sub-plot, and for this main reason of lack of creativity during a potentially ultra-serious and emotionally deep episode, I’m giving it a 3/5. I kind of love it and kind of hate it at the same time.

 

References:

Getting High, Reaching a Low, Matt Richenthal

Hollywood Reporter Bin Laden Episode Review, THR Staff

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S1E6, Bullies – Two Words: Terry Crews

Episode six was a real game changer for The Newsroom–things are getting seriously cereal now (that’s a South Park reference for those of you who don’t know). “Bullies” stepped away from focusing on relationships (although that’s still the prevalent secondary theme of the show) and began to discuss live television reporting and the many stresses that come with it in a very real and serious sense. PLUS, Terry Crews is in it. Terry freaking Crews.

I told you! That's the always attractive Olivia Munn poking Terry Crew's rock-solid pectorals. I wouldn't lie.

I told you. That’s the always attractive Olivia Munn poking Terry Crew’s rock-solid pectorals. I wouldn’t lie.

 

Getting back to business, the story in this episode really centers on McAvoy as a leader and coach, something we established he’s seen as to the rest of the newsroom during the previous episode. However, now the audience learns more about the negative side of his “coaching,” and why he acts the way he does plus why he feels the way he feels (about himself and his own actions as well as the actions of others). The episode cleverly reveals things about McAvoy in a reverse fashion, having the action start off with McAvoy being shouted at and questioned by MacKenzie.

We learn that McAvoy is having some on-air problems and stumbles because After being placed in the protection of Terry Crews (I’m not using his character’s name because he’s just that awesome) due to a death threat that he received online, McAvoy visits his psychiatrist to discuss why it is that he can’t get sleep anymore. McAvoy says that all he really wanted was a sleeping pill prescription, but he ends up getting much more than he though he would.

The big new chunks of information that we get include: One, McAvoy and his mother and siblings were abused by a drunken father earlier in life, leading to a lot of the social trust issues he has today, Two, Sloan Sabbith really looks up to McAvoy as a judge, mentor and coach because of the way she interpreted what he said about not allowing people to lie on her airtime (she stated Off The Record information from a friend in Japan about a nuclear reactor pressure level), Three, McAvoy was going to ask MacKenzie to marry him right before she cheated, and Four, Don is FINALLY catching on to Maggie and Jim’s relationship.

When Will sits down in his shrink's office, he doesn't realize just how much he's going to learn about himself--even if there is no immediate change in character or personality.

When Will sits down in his shrink’s office, he doesn’t realize just how much he’s going to learn about himself–even if there is no immediate change in character or personality.

 

McAvoy’s character is developing alongside the rest of the people in the newsroom, and this is a pretty important step in his life. What McAvoy refers to as “something stupid” in this episode (scaring a college girl at a debate a few months earlier) was a pretty huge deal for him at the time, so it’s clear that his opinions and beliefs do change as time goes on. Despite this fact, he never forgets, much like how MacKenzie hasn’t forgotten about how she betrayed McAvoy (and her own future with him in the process) and how Sabbith hasn’t forgotten McAvoy’s words about not lying on this network.

When Skinner and McAvoy come up with a way for Sabbith to save her job  and the honor of the Japanese man she betrayed at the end of the episode, she questions whether or not she should lie on air. After clearly remembering what McAvoy said to the entire team just a little while back, how could she? McAvoy tells her that he wants her to lie so she can stay on the team, and this goes back to what I was saying earlier. These characters aren’t forgetting past and present events, but they’re changing emotionally and socially as they move into the future. These kinds of changes (a rekindling of the romantic relationship between McAvoy and MacKenzie, Sabbith gaining some social skills and helping Don with his relationships problems, etc) are the things that are really making the show what it is right now.

In a Backstage episode recap, the staff remarks that one of the keynote scenes of “Bullies” is “a truly powerful scene, and another example of how ‘The Newsroom’ works best when the cameras in front of the cameras are rolling.” (Backstage Episode Six Recap) The scene they’re referring to involves McAvoy acting on out his instincts to stop people from being bullies for no reason whatsoever (clearly acquired during his time with his abusive father). He argues with a homosexual African American spokesperson for Rick Santorum’s campaign platform about how Mr. Santorum doesn’t believe “his kind” could be successful in a teaching position, for example. The spokesperson eventually cannot put up with McAvoy’s bullying (who doesn’t really know he’s being more of a bully then anyone else at the time) and shuts him down verbally.

This is the kind of camera angle you want to see on The Newsroom. The tension and stress of live television reporting and interviewing.

This is the kind of camera angle you want to see on The Newsroom. The tension and stress of live television reporting and interviewing.

 

Backstage is right in saying that this kind of action is what works best in The Newsroom. Focusing on things that other shows don’t or can’t, things like news reporting, live television journalism and the political side of television networks and stations makes is stand out in a much more prominent way than if it were focusing on the lovey-dovey relationship side of everything. Granted, the audience needs something to be able to connect to, and relationship issues between characters is a very easy way to achieve this. It just helps so greatly to be able to balance the two out in harmony, and this is what I’ve been a heavy supporter of in my past episode reviews.

The final thing that the show is doing a much better job at conveying is how the outside world views McAvoy and the rest of the newsroom. Prior to this episode, we’ve only seen a few characters interact with people outside of the office (the main example being the first time we say McAvoy’s face when he was at a college debate/presentation). The audience has very limited amounts of time to connect with how the fictional audience in the world of The Newsroom reacts to things, so bringing in the internet commentators in this episode was a great way to bridge the gap. Jeff Bercovici says it best in his review of episode six when he writes, “anonymous Internet commenters [are] crawling all over the News Night Web site, agreeing with the angry mosque lady, saying bigoted things about the gay black guy, and threatening to shoot Will… Get off my lawn, Internet commenters!” Regardless of how you feel for the people we’re introduced to (people like Lollypop Lollypop), you have to love that we see their opinions and realities in The Newsroom. 5/5.

 

References:

Newsroom Episode Six Recap, Backstage

Newsroom Recap – Slam Dunk, Jeff Bercovici

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S1E5, Amen – ADRIAAANNN!!!

If you’ve been following my Newsroom episode review posts, then you’ll know I’m a big advocate of hoping this show will master how to properly balance the two different types of stories contained in each episode: the romantic relationship love triangle stories and the stressful newsroom media coverage stories. In episode five, “Amen,” I believe it’s pretty darn clear that these two things are really starting to get heavily developed while remaining perfectly balance (minus the annoying Jim, Maggie and Don love triangle that I find continuously more annoying and predictable with every minute of their screen time).

In episode five, themes of teamwork and bravery are very prevalent. The story revolves around the “Egypt’s Berlin Wall Moment,” or the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak (Colby Hall Article). With a sense of liberation from the tyranny of President Mubarak, the Egyptian people started riots and all-around craziness in Tahrir Square, Cairo. McAvoy, MacKenzie and the rest of the team back home were reporting on the event as they learned their main reporter overseas had been grabbed the mobs rioting in the square and beaten with a rock. The main reason this happened was because of Don’s pugnacious nature to get a better story than the other networks–basically to make more money and boost ratings, which seem to be the main goals of Don’s character.

As the beaten reporter is flown back to the States, the news team finds a new overseas reporter in Amen, or Khalid. Khalid has connections with Neal, who covered the London Underground bombings, so a successful relationship and overseas connection is established between the good folk of the newsroom and Khalid–so much so that McAvoy later wires a quarter of a million dollars to the Egyptian army (who now holds the power in Egyptian government) to release him from holding.

MacKenzie and Neal video chat with Khalid, the news team's newfound reporter on the ground in Egypt.

MacKenzie and Neal video chat with Khalid, the news team’s new found reporter on the ground in Egypt.

As this story develops throughout the episode, we also learn that MacKenzie still has strong and clear feelings for McAvoy, and vice versa. Not only does McAvoy say that any man who’d betray and leave MacKenzie would be mad (this happens after a minor plot twist involving MacKenzie finding out that her new boyfriend was only using her for the purposes of advancing his career goals in an upcoming election), but MacKenzie organizes a reenactment of Will’s favorite scene from the film Rudy. Just like the end of Rudy where the Notre Dame football team players line up and place their jerseys down on the coach’s desk because they want Rudy to play, MacKenzie has everyone in the office line up outside of McAvoy’s room and place small checks on his desk to help pay for the freeing of Khalid. This is definitely one of the most special, moving moments I’ve see on The Newsroom so far, and it led to the biggest emotional and physical connection between McAvoy and MacKenzie as well!

“Amen” really stands out to me because of that clear connection it makes with Rudy, an amazing sports tale (it’s very similar to Rocky, if you haven’t seen it). Treating McAvoy like the chief and coach of the newsroom is a serious honor, especially after all the events and problems that everyone has had to deal with in the past four episodes (dating issues, gun violence, the near-assassination of a congresswoman, the verbal and emotional assault of college students and far right and far left party members alike, etc.). Like Mat Richenthal says in his review of episode five from the TV Fanatic website, “The football analogy works perfectly here: if past episodes focused a bit too much on Will and his mission, this installment allowed various members to run, pass block, kick field goals, haul in fly patterns… you get the idea.” This episode had the entire office working as one single unit–a solid team–and that’s what makes it really stand out.

Previous episodes have worked towards the same idea of having people band together to accomplish tasks (like how every member of the team had to work together to figure out whether or not Congresswoman Gifford was actually assassinated or not), but incorporating an outside movie like Rudy (or Rocky or any of the other movies that really sparked the rest of the cliche motivation sports film genre) helped to make it shine. Everyone worked together when a story need to be completed and aired, the professional end, and everyone worked together when a life was in danger and needed rescuing (especially since the network executives were refusing to help in any way), the emotional, personal end. 4/5.

 

References:

Egypt’s Berlin Wall Moment: Embattled President Hosni Mubarak Steps Down, Colby Hall

 A Player’s Coach – The Newsroom Episode 5 Review, Matt Richenthal

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S1E4, I’ll Try to Fix You – Proper Balancing For the Win

In my last Newsroom post, I discussed my opinions on the fact that the show seems to be very indecisive in terms of focusing on relationship/love triangle stories or focusing on news/media stories. All three prior episodes included both story types, but none of them seemed to balance them out too well. After having watched episode four, I can safely say that this is the first episode to balance the themes properly–to a certain extent!

“I’ll Try to Fix You” finally achieves the balance between romantic relationship and media studies that I’ve been wanting from the show. The story really centers around McAvoy and his newfound coworker relationship with MacKenzie. It’s horribly clear that McAvoy still has serious feelings for her, and I think it’s even more clear that things will EVENTUALLY work out between the two–somehow. However that’s not where this episode shines.

Where it really succeeds is in McAvoy’s “Mission to Civilize.” Will spends almost three-quarters of the episode meeting/dating new women–each woman brings with her a new set of radical problems. One is a take-down gossip reporter who makes the misery of others her life goal; another is a gossiper and physically attractive airhead; another is a far left Southern gal who has held one too many grudges. As Will spends time with each of these women, we not only learn more about his character and what he stands for, but we experience (through his eyes) multiple problems with the way the media affects and changes people. For example, shows like The Real Housewives of New Jersey seem to only piss Will off because of how irrelevant they are to life–when people keep mentioning the show and how Will continually mispronounces the title, he asks: “Who gives a shit anyway?”

One of the situations that arises from McAvoy's encounter with a gun-toting gal from the south. Also known as "Annie Oakley."

One of the situations that arises from McAvoy’s encounter with a gun-toting gal from the south. Also known as “Annie Oakley.” This comes back to bite Will on the butt rather quickly.

 

The dramatic highpoint of the episode is when things take a turn for the worse: Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford is shot in the head in Tuscon, Arizona. As soon as notice of this event surfaces in the newsroom, all relationship squablles hault. Even after McAvoy learns that the “people on the 44th floor” might be trying to take him down because of his recent attacks on the Tea Party (whose elite members and leaders have business with the president and owner of the network), this shooting is priority. To be more specific, Gifford’s life is the priority–at least in the case of ACN. Even though three other networks call Gifford deceased prematurely on live air, ACN holds back–and they’re ultimately right for doing so.

One of the gatekeepers of the show, the network owner’s son, ran into the broadcast room infuriated at the fact that McAvoy hadn’t called Gifford’s death yet. In a shocking moment of realization, it was Don, the true A’hole of the office, that said that the status of Gifford’s life is judged by a medical doctor, not by a network.

While Don’s bravery against the gatekeepers of the network (maybe I should say TEMPORARY bravery) was quite admirable, his ongoing relationship with Maggie is not. As I mentioned in my last episode review, the love triangle between Jim, Don and Maggie reminds re tremendously of Jim, Roy and Pam from The Office, and it holds in this episode. I feel that their relationship and the direction it’s moving in is extremely predictable. Again, like I stated last time, something is going to happen that separates one pair and unites the other. As TV reviewer Rae Alexandra (for SF Weekly) so eloquently puts it, “Drop this douche already!”

Personally, I feel that Mr. Sorkin and the show writers are finally getting to understand the direction the show SHOULD be going in to make it the best possible experience for everyone. Even Dan Rather agrees with this statement–in his review of episode four, Rather says, “Especially in this latest episode, the script is tight and meaty, the dialogue is crisp and the narrative moves along at a good pace.” Like me, Rather feels that the episodes are getting consecutively better as the writers and directors determine the direction action should move in through each week’s hour-long story. If the episodes continue to move in a direction that either balances the two worlds of romantic relationships and media/politics or just focuses on a new, individual matter every different time, I think the show will be better for it. 4/5.

 

References:

The Newsroom Episode Four Review, Dan Rather

Sexual Tension in The Newsroom Episode Four, Rae Alexandra

 

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S1E3, The 112th Congress – Choose One or the Other, Please

After watching episode three of The Newsroom, The 112th Congress, I think I’m starting to realize one of the maim problems with the show: it has two sides that it’s not always able to balance. There’s a political, mass media side that focuses on presenting information to the public, and there’s an emotional, romantic relationship side that focuses on office relationships between characters.

On the positive side, I think that when the show focuses on the political, mass media side, it does a fantastic job of presenting how the media works in the United States and who is really in power. On the negative side, I think that the office relationships are fairly stale and predictable. This episode is a particularly good example of my opinions/arguments.

In episode three, the story revolves around McAvoy and MacKenzie beginning to really start giving honest, legitimate news to the people, regardless of ‘what’s hot’ or popular at the time. With the congressional district elections approaching rapidly, the team decides to focus on the Tea Party movement and figuring out what they really know about politics and the government. McAvoy shows his snarky, sadistic side by really starting to get inside the heads of political leaders and candidates of the Tea Party while MacKenzie focuses on pushing McAvoy to focus on the news and not what makes a good story.

On the political, mass media side, we not only see a battle between who knows more about the government and the way politics works (this kind of conflict really occurs between McAvoy and the representatives of the Tea Party movement that he chooses to interview, such as Sharron Angle and Spokeswomen Gloria Hansen), but we see a conflict between the media and the government. As Dan Rather says in a review of episode three, the episode “reveals the danger of big business being in bed with big government, whether the government is led by Republicans or Democrats.” As McAvoy starts getting more and more aggressive in an effort to bring the true, honest story to the people, the gatekeepers of News Night (the owner of the corporation and her son) threaten to fire him. Since the owner “has business” in front of the congress and people that McAvoy is attacking, she’s not happy at all.

The owner of the cable company that McAvoy's show airs on starts to play serious role as one of the gatekeepers--she decides what messages will be shown.

The owner of the cable company that McAvoy’s show airs on starts to play serious role as one of the gatekeepers–she decides what messages will be shown.

 

On the relationship side, things really start heating up (both aggressively and sexually) between McAvoy and MacKenzie as well as between Don and Maggie. McAvoy and MacKenzie’s relationship (both past and present) develops as it’s made clear that Will is still deeply hurt by how MacKenzie cheated on him. It’s not too clear whether or not the two are going to make up and reunite as the show goes on, and this kind of mystery is good for an on-screen relationship. As a member of the audience, you really start to wonder how things are going to play out between the two.

The relationship between Don and Maggie is where I begin to draw the line in terms of a well written and paced on-screen relationship. As Win Rosenfeld states in a review of the third episode, there’s an “obligatory love triangle” going on between Don, Maggie and Jim. This triangle is very over the top and very cliche, at least in my opinion. I’ve seen this kind of triangle on countless other narrative television shows (LOST, 24, The Office, etc.), and it’s really not bringing anything new to the table. Two people are in a semi-abusive (more emotionally and sociologically abusive than physically) relationship and one other character (could be male or female) sees the problem and tries his or her best to help one of the two people in the relationship. It’s blatantly clear that Dom and Maggie will eventually break up (or something will happen that will cause the two to break up) and Maggie and Jim will get together. Just like Jim fought to get and keep Pam from Roy in the first few seasons of The Office, it’s clear that that’s how this show’s love triangle will flow. The only difference is that we’re in a newsroom, not a paper company.

I truly enjoy watching the side of the show that focuses on the media and how it interacts with the government and political leaders, especially when network gatekeepers get involved. There’s clear tension there and a lot of potential for powerful messages in future episodes. However when it comes to the relationship aspect of the show, I become much less interested. Minus the hint of mystery and unclarity in McAvoy and MacKenzie’s relationship, the rest seems overdone and often overplayed. I feel that if the show places more of a focus on either one of these aspects in future episodes (maybe even in some kind of weekly pattern), it will be much better for it. 3.5/5.

 

References:

The 112th Congress Review, Dan Rather

Backstage Newsroom Episode Three Review, Win Rosenfeld