I finished Season 1 of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom last night. I have two reactions, both of which are about the last episode of Season 1, entitled “The Greater Fool.”
1. Will McAvoy is a news anchor, who has recently abandoned his milquetoast style of doing the news in favor of a hard-hitting (and some would say left-leaning) track. An acquaintance of his, after hanging around the newsroom, has finally written his story about Will in a prominent magazine. Will is devastated by the article’s negativity about him and what he is doing, and he is especially upset that those he respects have said bad things about him. Will self-medicates and ends up in the hospital, and, while there, he has a nurse whom he fears wants to euthanize him (or so he says jokingly). Will learns that the African-American grandmother of his nurse will not be able to vote due to a voter ID law in Tennessee, for she does not have a car and thus lacks a driver’s license. The nurse demands that he do a story about that, Will can see the value of such a story, and so that is the top story in his next newscast.
The reason that I loved this part of the episode was that it’s easy for me to identify with Will’s depression about the rejection that he was experiencing. And yet, Will was reminded that, even if people rejected him, he had an important mission to perform, a vital story to tell: he was going to expose the unfairness of voter ID laws to whomever would listen. I’m not saying that having a significant mission can cure everyone’s depression, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that could help a lot of people.
2. A famous scene on the first episode is when Will is at a college, and a blonde female college student asks him and the other two speakers to explain “in a sentence or less” why America is the greatest country in the world. Will responds that it’s not, but it used to be. He also criticizes the lady who asked the question, calling her “sorority girl.”
On the last episode of the series, sorority girl is applying to be an intern to work in Will’s newsroom. Will vaguely recognizes her at first, and then he realizes who she is. “You’re the one who asked that moronic question about why America is the greatest country in the world,” he exclaims. She soberly replies that she is that person, that she watches his show regularly, and that she thinks that the work that he is doing is important. Will then requests that she ask her “idiotic” question again: Why is America the best country in the world? She does so, and Will responds: “You are.” Watch the scene here (there are differences between the scene and my description, since I was writing from memory).
I like that scene because the story of “sorority girl” does not end with Will’s sarcastic, holier-than-thou put-down on the first episode of the series. But the scene also made me think about something: can putting somebody else down actually encourage him or her to change? Sometimes it can, and sometimes it does not. My high school guidance counselor was a liberal, and I (who was a conservative at the time) was debating with him about politics one day. He said that he used to think like I did, but when he was a teen he went to Washington, D.C. with a group of students and met his congressman, a Democrat. He was criticizing the Congressman for voting for Medicare, and the congressman responded, “If that’s how you feel, then you should go home and pray for your soul!” The congressman’s words had an effect on my guidance counselor, and, in the next election, my guidance counselor voted for the congressman.
Sometimes people are jarred out of their complacency or way of looking at things by a timely, strongly-worded remark. At other times, however, put-downs do not work. Another character on the Newsroom is pretending to be an Internet troll. Internet trolls often do not change people’s minds. There are many times when I think back to insults that people on the Internet have hurled at me, and my thought is not, “Oh, I should repent and change my mind,” but rather, “You self-righteous jackass” (I’m addressing the troll in my imagination).