This episode, “The 112th Congress,” took place during the last 6 months of 2010.
In 4th grade, I remember getting into an argument at the cafeteria table with two of my other friends. I was losing. It didn’t even turn into a shouting match where whosever voice is loudest wins. I was just not convincing anyone. The topic at hand: “Who’s more political, Justin or Maya?” It’s an adventurous argument for 4th graders to have. If you had asked my 10 year old self what “political” meant, I would’ve probably told you it’s whatever Keith Olbermann had said on the previous night of “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” (Maya was the smartest and prettiest girl in the class so I was never going to win anything over her—even if she wasn’t even arguing for herself). I grew up watching Olbermann’s nightly newscast on MSNBC. I was so captivated by his convictive rants that I decided that in 5th grade I wanted to work in government.
As I got older, I became more interested in things like SportsCenter, a woman’s butt, and Kanye West. My political tinge faded. I used to be engaged in my father’s hyper-political dinnertime conversations. Now I just complain, “Dad can we go one fucking dinner without having a political debate?” and go right back to hypothetically answering 50 Cent’s “21 Questions” in my head. If I didn’t smell good would you still hug me? Depends—are you Kate Upton? I tune out most political conversation these days.
Now, I’m a 19 year old student who faces a six-figure student loan debt once I get out of (notice how I didn’t say “graduate”) college. Occupy Wall Street began 15 minutes away from my dormitory, but I didn’t care. The man who I’ll probably vote against in my first election this November is more likely to lower my parents taxes (we’re not middle class but we’re not eating out every week either) to help me pay for college than the man I’ll vote for. I’m a disillusioned member of the electorate who is more likely to watch a Knicks game than a Presidential Debate, because I know that no matter what, things are swayed in the United States by those who have money, no matter how moral or immoral the cause. The Newsroom reminded me of that tonight.
The episode began with an on-air editorial comment by Will. He basically called every news broadcast he’d done in his career a sham, and outlined the new, progressive, honest, factual, “News Night.” Following “The Apology,” a 6-month span of News Night events was chronicled. Instead of injecting fear mongering tactics in their coverage of the 2010 Times Square Car Bombing attack that was thwarted, News Night decided to play down the potential threat, and play up the fact that the system worked to prevent the bombing. Instead of pandering to the conservatives who had been boosting News Night’s ratings, Will launched an assault on the Tea Party. A Republican himself, Will was determined to expose a newly radical Tea Party for infecting his party and radicalizing the centrist Republican base. While he did all of this by simply laying out the facts—I’ve never seen a drama lay out so many statistics—he began to agitate the powers that be.
Elsewhere, Don’s and Maggie’s relationship kept getting played out like that one couple from high school who everybody loathed. They’d break-up, and get back together (repeat 12x), until everyone got sick of them. By the end of the episode, Jim (who has been chasing Maggie), and Neal literally got sick at the sight of Don and Maggie kissing after apparently breaking-up AGAIN the week before.
On the other side of the newsroom, the romantic battle between Will and Mackenzie raged on. Will kept asking his dates to meet him at the office, sparking jealousy in Mackenzie (Will’s first date was a New York Jets cheerleader. When Mackenzie questioned the intelligence of Girl #2, Will responded with: “Neurologist at Columbia Presbyterian. Chief of Surgery. That would make her a brain surgeon. Literally, a brain surgeon.” Blow job joke #1 recorded). After being guilt tripped by Maggie into apologizing to Mackenzie, Will stopped short after she brought one of her dates to the office in retaliation. Let the Love Games begin.
Spliced in with scenes from that 6-month span was a meeting between Will’s boss Charlie Skinner, and the CEO of the network Leona Lansing. During that 6-month stretch of news, Will kept asking Charlie whether the higher ups were okay with the new direction. As Charlie’s meeting with Leona proved, they weren’t. As Charlie put it: “We stand for something. It’s a moral obligation—get used to it.” Apparently, a moral obligation doesn’t have advertising dollars to dole out. Because of Will’s crusade against the “witches” in Washington, corporate and political powers punched back against Atlantis Cable News instead of turning the other cheek. The corporation that was friendly with the network had been exposed by News Night for bankrolling the Tea Party, and the newly elected Republican Congressmen who regulate media and communications were bashed by News Night repeatedly for months.
The Newsroom is 98% based on reality (some news stories are stretched a bit for drama, but it’s still based on real events), reminding me of how hopeless I, along with many millions of Americans, feel about our present situation. Corporations fund the media and politicians, and in return, everybody circle-jerks each other and there’s no cheating involved. That leaves everybody else in a state of insubordination, which is the opposite of how a Democracy is supposed to work (hence the “99%” and the “1%” are born). (Let me step down from my barely political high horse for a moment.) In The Newsroom, “News Night with Will McAvoy” is the Private Eye who’s photographing the immoral circle-jerking, and publishing the photos on a blog for free. But in “The 112th Congress,” that Private Eye got kidnapped for all his good work by the people he’s photographing, and faces a choice: either stop, or get killed. At the end of the episode, Leona Lansing orders Charlie to reign Will back in, or Will gets a pink slip—a black slip actually, as a clause in his contract would legally bind him to stay off the air for 3-years if he were to get fired (Funny how Charlie wanted to prevent the next “McCarthy” from being elected to Congress through Will’s Tea Party witch-hunt. In the 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy persecuted members of Hollywood who were suspected communists. Nobody was ever proved to have ties to the USSR, but his public hearings caused these people to be blacklisted from all lines of work, ruining their lives. In this case, Leona would’ve practiced her brand of McCarthyism on Will).
With Leona’s own “You’re either in or you’re out” ultimatum delivered to Charlie (we’re averaging about one ultimatum a week on this show now), Charlie, Will, and Mackenzie are all in the firing line. The romantic and corporate trenches have now been established for the rest of the season. It’s time for things to get ugly. Let the battles begin.
Notebook dumps: When will News Night allow Olivia Munn’s character to live report the rising price of car washes in only a bikini? Also, Sam Waterson has the best non-Drake bushy eyebrows, as well as the best bow tie since Andre 3000.
Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49