Monday, July 2, 2012


Liberals make the most sincere reactionaries. Unlike their rightist cousins who thrash and scream incoherently, liberals really revere American myths. Which is why they insist that they are the True Patriots. I've never doubted them.

I don't know if Aaron Sorkin shares this conceit. Yes, his liberalism is evident. He hits all the requisite targets, at times repeatedly, just so you grasp his point.

But Sorkin's reliance on mythology feels forced. Pandering. Almost a parody. Perhaps when he receives his Serling-type retrospective, we'll learn that Sorkin was joking all along.

His latest, The Newsroom, could use more laughs. It could use a lot of things -- better characters, plausible plots, engrossing action. Maybe that's to come; we're only two episodes in. If so, then Sorkin has a deep narrative hole to dig out of.

Again, this might be intentional. Sorkin may be fucking with us as a challenge to himself. How long can he alienate his audience before he swoops in with an Emmy winning script? He's not going to be more celebrated and famous than now. Why not experiment?

To paraphrase SCTV's Bobby Bittman: As an observer, in all seriousness, I think that Sorkin is running on fumes. At least on TV. He still scores big on the larger screen.

But those are usually someone else's stories. When left to dwell on his own obsessions, Sorkin offers the same plot points, same rhythms, even the same dialogue, pulled from earlier shows.

Through it all, the same message surfaces: Smart people, educated at elite institutions, should run society. Everyone else should listen, marvel, and follow their lead.

There's no need to substantially change American reality. All that's required is slick, competent management.

No wonder so many liberals love Sorkin.

They must also love Sorkin's misty evocation of a superior age. The Newsroom opens with a homage to the ghosts of broadcast journalism's past: Murrow, Cronkite, Chet Huntley. Back when the news meant something! When it served a positive social role!

This is a popular fantasy, especially in an era of Fox News. And while those ghosts were better informed and more articulate than our present-day zombies, they served the same powerful interests. Bowed before similar gods.

Murrow is hailed for destroying Joe McCarthy, if not McCarthyism itself. But by 1954, when Murrow attacked him, McCarthy was nearly finished. His mad rushes into Truman, Eisenhower, George Marshall, and the United States Army left McCarthy few allies. All Murrow did was kick some belated dirt in McCarthy's face.

Murrow never really questioned the Cold War framework that allowed McCarthy to frolic. Harry Truman was a more effective witch hunter than McCarthy could dream to be, yet I don't know of a program where Murrow exposed this.

Indeed, on Murrow's radio show This I Believe, Truman espoused his values, which naturally were of the highest order. Only clowns like McCarthy got deflated.

The same with Walter Cronkite, who Sorkin (via Sam Waterston) claims helped end the Vietnam war. This refers to Cronkite's famous 1968 editorial calling for a US exit from Vietnam.

Up to that point, Cronkite was an enthusiastic supporter of the American assault, accompanying pilots as they carpet bombed Vietnamese cities. His devotion was never in question.

By '68, it was clear that the US wouldn't conquer Vietnam. Even Wall Street began withdrawing support. Cronkite merely stated what other elites were already saying.

Of course, he put it in the nicest possible terms, praising our noble intentions and bottomless morality. Had the US successfully occupied North Vietnam, do you think that Cronkite would protest?

By lauding these and other news legends, Sorkin adds another dream layer to an already unrealistic show. His flawed but essentially decent characters are not interested in show biz -- they're about hard news. Damn the ratings. Fuck the suits. They're taking it to the glass wall. Are you in or are you out?

If Sorkin's characters had the integrity he suggests they have, they'd quit in disgust. Find other ways to inform the public (assuming the public wants to be informed). There's no serious way to do that through a corporate news lens. There it's about ad rates, celebrity, privilege, and manufacturing consent.

The only difference between Fox and MSNBC is the demographic being yanked. Who offers the better tote bag is more open to question.