YouTube Bungles the Newsroom

| July 19, 2012

They didn’t just cut a scene out of The Newsroom, they cut the wrong scene out of The Newsroom and titled it the “The most honest 3 minutes of television, EVER…”

It’s come to my attention that a video has started passing around the internet which consists of a truncated version of the first five minutes of the pilot episode of The Newroom. In the scene Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is egged on by a moderator into having something of a breakdown on stage at a college. He gives a speech where he reveals how worn out and discouraged he is by the current state
of America. He bashes against the idea that America is the greatest country in the world, spews out statistics about where America stands in terms of math, literacy, and child mortality, and then reminisces about a time when America was a paragon of exploration, medical advances, and moral values. The purpose of the scene is to show us Will’s frustration with the way news is handled. The entire scene takes
place between two anchors—we assume they are anchors or “intellectuals” or something—who are each firmly planted on the right or the left and are fighting the way we’ve seen people on tv fight for years. Where those two people are clouded in bullshit, arguments like that America is great because of “diversity and opportunity” or “freedom and freedom”, Will becomes motivated to cut through that bullshit and simply deliver what’s important to people on his program.

Instead of viewing the show as a critique of how real life news programs have allowed political polarization to degrade and distort the facts for their own agendas, however, this video removes all of that context and views it as some kind of rallying cry for people who don’t think America’s no good no more. This is like charging into battle with the disembodied head of your leader on a stick and forgetting what it was he encouraged you to go to war for in the first place.

The title, “the most honest 3 minutes of television, EVER…” implies one of two things: either that all of what Will says is true, or that this is a moment where a fictitious television character is more honest about his internal feeling than any other character has ever been before on television. Now, I shouldn’t have to explain why I don’t think any viewer is EVER going to think it’s that second one. I’m not looking to get into a political debate, and I really love this show and I really love the Apollo program, but the disillusionment Will expresses about current political affiliations and his nostalgia for exploring space makes it seem like he’s forgotten what the War in Vietnam was doing to America at the time of that mighty achievement. The nostalgia of this speech grows from the same place as that beautiful lie we tell ourselves about the perfection of the 1950’s, of doo-wop groups, pleasant housewives in white aprons, and for Will, stand-up news anchors like Edward R Murrow. This isn’t 3 minutes of honesty because it’s not even 3 minutes of Will being honest with himself. This is a well written and well acted scene, not a definitive analysis of modern America.

This is a character moment, not a political argument, on a television show about news shows, not an actual news show, and even at that, the original poster of the video doesn’t even have integrity enough not to chop it up so he can get to the yelling as fast as possible. The motivations and the hesitance of Will McAvoy is removed along with Will’s second answer—which revolves around the Declaration of Independence and the qualities of our Constitution and mirrors the rousing second half of his speech. And without his motivations for the speech being in the video we don’t have that underlying moment of hope that’s tied with the sign he saw which read, “It’s not. But it can be.” Removing America’s potential for greatness as implied by that moment in the scene completely undermines what he’s even saying in that monologue. They’ve neutered it because they didn’t even understand it in the first place.

The lie that this video is going to tell viewers is that honesty and facts are the same thing. That all the statistics Will McAvoy says are fact. Viewers may assume that none of Aaron Sorkin’s real life politics are going to shine through—which is, of course, impossible. Just as Hemmingway couldn’t right many great female characters because he was a man, despite how much he tries Sorkin can’t write very convincing conservative arguments because he doesn’t understand a conservative’s arguments.

Local radio host and economist, Mike Rosen, spent some time recently deconstructing this monologue on his show. And while I don’t agree with some of what he says and while I’m frustrated by the fact that he didn’t watch the entire episode I think he makes some strong arguments against this being the most factual 3 minutes of television EVER…

Note that for my purposes there’s little reason to listen beyond 19 minutes because then he takes calls about it.

The Mike Rosen Show, June 25

Rosen’s interpretation of The Newroom’s leftist slant is exaggerated and uninformed but this clip is good because of how he tears down the statistics that McAvoy quotes. It may be that Sorkin believes all of what he wrote in the scene, or that he misquoted some statistics, or that his sources were not solid enough, or that Rosen’s sources are wrong—I’d like to point out that he doesn’t argue against the math or literacy statistics because seventh isn’t that shocking and number twenty-second in literacy seems understandable when we already know that’s one of the things we should work on. Shit, look how many times I’m misused commas and semi-colons in this article, and I was an English major; it’s almost like they taught that garbage doesn’t matter and I should make it up as I go along. But the derailed point is that it doesn’t matter if these facts are right or wrong because that’s not the function of this scene nor is it what this show is fixated on criticizing. If you’re pulling all your facts out of a piece of fiction you’ve already missed the boat on being well-informed. I do a podcast where I talk about movies and I joke that everything I learned I learned from movies but I don’t vote democrat because I really like Bill Pullman’s speech at the end of Independence Day and I don’t fear stem cell research because I saw the movie Splice.

If you believe everything in this show is real than Olivia Munn has four years of pretending she’s into nerds to sell you.

Still I think that it’s important that people hear things like Rosen’s argument about how manipulative a statistic like infant mortality is when used in this context.

Let me also say that Rosen’s argument that The West Wing is overly biased because the best lines go to the liberals and the republicans all get stupid lines is simply false. I really like that show, too.

Youtubers taken a piece of fiction out of a show about public ignorance and biased news and in doing so they cut out all the meaning until all they were left with was the flame war. They’re literally doing the thing that Will McAvoy is frustrated by in the show. Aaron Sorkin’s political affiliations aside, watching this video and thinking that now you know something is perhaps the most insane and ignorant thing I’ve seen the internet do since it trolled Boxxy.

If you like the idea of someone saying that America isn’t the greatest country in the world than be honest with yourself and ask why. I know that the reason I like that argument is because I like when Will says that we didn’t used to “beat our chests so much.” I like the idea that even if we are the greatest country in the world we don’t need to tell ourselves that, instead we need to look for the ways we aren’t and strive to be better. Maybe that’s what can make us the greatest country in the world; a little humility. But that’s just why I like it.

And not to beleaguer the point, but then entire first episode of The Newsroom is free online here, so instead of watching it butchered on Youtube, you could just watch it and actually know what it’s about.

Maybe I’m just in my mid-twenties slump, feeling like there’s too many numbskulls for politics to ever work right in this country again—and maybe that’s why I love The Newsroom so much—but at a moment like this I think maybe Will is right. We’re the “Worst. Period. Generation. Period” EVER…

-James

About the Author:

James grew up in a house where Friday night was Movie night, which meant that he’d watched more movies than anybody else his age before he was even old enough to watch the rated R ones. He’ll watch just about anything, though he tends to avoid the horror movies without a sense of humor. Among his favorite movies are: Alien, Fargo, True Romance, Ed Wood, and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. He’s a die-hard LOST fan and a Brown Coat. As a writer, story usually comes first for James. Memorable characters and sharp dialogue are the things that separate the classics from the chaff. That said, he does his best to keep having fun at the movies. He’s seen plenty of critics who would once have accepted summer blockbusters as entertainment become jaded and nit-picky. Sure James loves the art of film and storytelling, but fun comes first, the fun that he had watching Raiders when he was little. Also, E.T. scares the pants off him.
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