“The Newsroom” Showed Me I Can Like People I Don’t Agree With

Ryan Fan

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It very much surprised me, according to John Walters at Newsweek, that people love to hate HBO’s The Newsroom, and the show even occupies an UrbanDictionary entry called hate-watching, watching a show just because you hate it. I found many of the ideals of the show elitist. I don’t agree with everything the characters stand for, and if you’ve never watched The Newsroom, the show is a testament to creator Aaron Sorkin’s philosophy on doing the news. Elitist is one way to describe how I feel about his attitude towards journalism, as is unrealistically idealistic.

Regardless of how I feel towards the ideals of The Newsroom, I absolutely love the show. I don’t see it as a testimony on how to do the news and journalism. I see it as a drama where the characters are well-fleshed out, complex, and who I’m rooting for the very next moment.

Will McAvoy, the protagonist and essentially Sorkin’s vessel in the show, is often criticized as what would be described today as a coastal elite. His scathing rebukes of the Tea Party might put him out of touch with the Trump base on the right today. Another con is a lot has happened since The Newsroom’s inception in 2010, namely Trump. The transgressions of the Tea Party seem to pale in comparison to what has transpired in the last several years.

But you can’t help but root for Will McAvoy, for the flourishing of his relationships, and for him to be a great mentor figure to new journalists and cable news anchors. I couldn’t help resonating with his traumatic past. I couldn’t help just wanting him to win. While there was hyperfocus on tuning out the ratings, Will McAvoy just does the news. It’s not his TV anchoring but the relationships that truly make you want to root for him most.

John Powers at WBUR derides the show’s characters as “overgrown teenagers,” stuck between love triangles and simply in high school-esque relationships. I think Powers has a really good point. The show isn’t just elitist and terribly condescending towards anyone who supported the Tea Party. It embodied condescension in all forms, towards anyone who might read tabloids or watch reality TV. According to Powers:

“It feeds the cliche of liberals as smug elitists who reflexively look down on anyone who doesn’t agree.”

And don’t get me wrong. The show is incredibly preachy and feels like it’s talking at you, not with you. But I didn’t watch The Newsroom to be enlightened or informed. I watched it to be entertained, and God Almighty was it an entertaining show. The dialogue is on point and the chemistry between the characters and actors make it never a dull watch. Your evaluation of the show largely depends on what you watch the show for.

But still, you can’t help but root for the characters like the best of anime. You can’t help but root for Jim and Maggie’s relationship to work out, or for Mackenzie and Will to reconcile. I don’t mean to spoil too much of the show, but despite the smug liberal elitism of many of the characters, I thought so what? I liked the characters too much. I liked watching their interactions too much.

Watching The Newsroom in an era of all-time high political characterization was a breath of fresh air. Perhaps this is because some of my friends fall into the “smug liberal elite” stereotype, or at least it can seem that way from the outside. But the characters of The Newsroom are very multidimensional. A news anchor like Will McAvoy might be someone I love to hate on actual cable TV, but this was my Will McAvoy after three seasons of the show, someone whose personal life I was well acquainted with, someone I saw with a lens of intimacy.

You don’t get to know most people as well as you get to know the characters of The Newsroom. And I am not sure if this was Sorkin’s intention, but the humanity of each of the characters transcended their often annoying and outdated ideals. The characters came first, and the philosophy and message of the show came secondary. When the safety of a single character is compromised, I couldn’t help but worry and take my eyes off my work and put my eyes on the screen.

I, like many, heard of the terrible reviews of The Newsroom before watching it. Sporting a 59% critic review on Rotten Tomatoes and having one of the first Google searches of the show being “The Pretentious Condescension of ‘The Newsroom’,” the feedback was not exactly inspiring. The critic consensus for the first season of the show is the following:

“Though it sports good intentions and benefits from moments of stellar dialogue and a talented cast, The Newsroom may feel too preachy, self satisfied, and cynical to appeal to a wide range of viewers.”

However, the audience loved the show much more than the critics. Perhaps common people like me didn’t look at the show with the same critical lens as journalists who didn’t agree with Sorkin’s view of how journalism should be done.

Regardless of the mission, The Newsroom is entertaining television, and it has terrific characters that you can simultaneously disagree with and love. It’s kind of like real life sometimes, which makes the show perfectly appropriate for this day and age.

Photo from HBO

Originally published on June 18, 2020 on FanFare

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Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of "The Wire," God's gift to the Earth. Support me: https://ko-fi.com/ryanfan

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