In defense of the women in Sorkin’s “The Newsroom”


In a scene from the first episode of “The Newsroom,” on HBO, John Gallagher Jr., Emily Mortimer and Alison Pill. (JOHN P. JOHNSON)

Thomas Sadoski, Sam Waterston and Jeff Daniels in “The Newsroom.” ( John P. Johnson )

The pontificating, bourbon-loving suit played by Sam Waterston — “News organizations are a public trust, with an ability to inform and influence the national conversation!” — would have been fired in the ‘80s, probably after a stint in whiskey school. Then there’s the lack of chemistry between the two main characters, who couldn’t behave more like seventh-graders if they were lobbing spitballs and passing notes in study hall.

Yet none of these minor inflammations have kept “The Newsroom” from becoming my new favorite show; the writing is irresistible, the subject matters. And I completely reject the idea that a woman (or man) can’t be smart and kind of a ditz; it’s a combo that does exist in nature.

The best female character is indeed the toughest, the cable network owner played by Jane Fonda.


Jeff Daniels as anchor Will McAvoy in “The Newsroom.” (Melissa Moseley/HBO)

But the Mac character works, too — or will, once the writers let her settle into herself. As the show’s executive producer, just back from the war zone, she’s at least as intelligent as the male anchor (and ex) she props up, but unlike him has some people skills, too.

Alison Pill’s meek Maggie, who is pushed around by her newsbeau on the show, and once hid under a dorm-room bed while the guy who stashed her there had sex with an old girlfriend — is a more annoying version of Donna from Sorkin’s West Wing, someone we’ll get to watch grow, and who will probably grow on us.


Emily Mortimer as executive producer Mackenzie McHale in “The Newsroom.” (Melissa Moseley /HBO)

Of course the show is a rescue fantasy -- Mac rescues Will from moral decay (and in the future, from dates with women he doesn’t care about). The country is rescued from the no-good, corrupt MSM by a few true-believers who decide to defy the odds and do honest-to-God news instead of merely good television. The cable network may or may not be rescued from itself by Jane Fonda. But if News Night does not survive, it will go down showing them how it’s done.

Back here on Earth, in any case, I’m just glad there are 2.2 million Americans who thought this high-flying discussion of news and politics -- performed as one “aria of facts” after another, the New Yorker said disapprovingly — was worth tuning in for last week.


Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.

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