This week on The Newsroom … ACN treads cautiously in its coverage of the Boston marathon bombings. Sloan uncovers news that threatens everyone’s jobs. And Neal induces a felony that could land him in hot water – or even prison.
This week’s headlines
Social media’s going to solve this crime.
We pick up five months on from election night and the season two finale, as this episode covers the Boston marathon bombings of 15th April 2013 and their aftermath as seen through the eyes of the media.
It traces the sequence of events from the two detonations near the race’s finish line which killed three people to the subsequent manhunt and capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. In particular, the role of social media and citizen journalism in breaking news stories, spreading hearsay and fanning the flames of hysteria is placed under the microscope.
I’m at the only reliable breaking news network … Yes, except that one time.
From an ACN perspective, we see the impact of last season’s Operation Genoa investigation as Will and the team are reluctant to break the news until they have rock-solid confirmation, a decision which is underlined when CNN and other networks are forced to retract stories about a suspect being arrested.
Elliot Hirsch travels to his home-town to report on the story, taking Maggie with him. Doubts linger over Maggie’s state of mind after her post-traumatic stress following her tragic trip to Africa. However, she demonstrates that she has put her demons behind her when she is forced to file a live report in Elliot’s place after he suffers an allergic reaction to walnuts, and passes with flying colours.
We open the episode with Will and Mac discussing preparations for their upcoming wedding – will Mrs MacKenzie McHale McAvoy become known as ThreeMac? – but the two major plotlines which look set to dominate this season are unpacked more slowly before both come to a head in the climactic rooftop terrace scene.
Neal is contacted by someone claiming to be in possession of confidential government documents. He’s given a flash drive containing 27,000 stolen documents, many of them classified. When he tells Will, Mac and Charlie what has happened, they realise that he induced his contact to commit a felony. Will suggests that Neal is going to need lawyer Rebecca Halliday.
Sloan investigates after she receives a tip-off about a looming media acquisition. When she notices AWM’s stock rising despite poor quarterly results, she realises it is ACN’s parent company that is about to become the subject of a hostile takeover involving Reese‘s twin half-siblings.
Don remains an eminently loveable master of the black arts – the journalistic equivalent of Josh Lyman – as we’re reminded by the skilfully underhand way he gets himself excused from jury service after news of the bombings emerges.
Jim‘s girlfriend Hallie is now working for ACN. Surely it won’t last and he’s destined to end up with Maggie?
Not that I’m bothered about Jim and Maggie, as Don and Sloan remain by far the best couple on the show. Individually they’re the best two characters, but together they steal all the best scenes in this episode. Don instructing Sloan on who and how to target to get inside information on her mystery acquisition has a sharpness and cadence that could have been lifted straight from The West Wing in its prime.
Will spends a lot of this episode ranting about how journalistic values are being sacrificed at the altar of speed and social media. It’s the sort of high-minded, 20-20 hindsight preaching for which the show has often been criticised, with some justification, but for those who care about the accuracy and integrity of news reporting there’s a serious point. Can serious, patient, methodical journalism survive when anyone with a smartphone can instantly post speculative or erroneous statements and upload eyewitness footage to YouTube and see it go viral and reported as fact to millions of followers within minutes? When did being first with the news suddenly matter more than being right?
There is a price to pay here. Will and Mac and their team may be rebuilding their reputation as reliable purveyors of the news but with ratings sliding and the company facing a hostile takeover which could spell the end for the journalistic ideals that News Night 2.0 represents, is their stance sustainable? There’s a real sense of this building to Will’s last pre-wedding hurrah as he rages against the dying of the light, and an acknowledgement that the moral high ground is not something that a modern TV audience necessarily wants or cares about.
This was a strong return teeing up this final six-episode run with a series of big storylines. The show’s continued insistence on presenting an idealised view of how big news stories should be covered and an airing of Sorkin’s own liberal views won’t do anything to win over any detractors, but fans will still be delighted by Sorkin’s quick-fire dialogue and a cast which continues to excel.
And finally …
The references to CNN’s John King erroneously reporting the arrest of a suspect are based on actual events. King, the news anchor who broke the death of Osama bin Laden to CNN viewers, subsequently retracted the report and apologised publicly for his error.
Neal examines documents and newspaper clippings referring to riots in Equatorial Kundu that left 38 people dead. This fictional African country first appeared in Sorkin’s The West Wing.