Aaron Sorkin, Sam Waterston, and the Search for the Center

I missed the memo about Aaron Sorkin, Sam Waterston, and the Search for the Center.

Gentle reader, I haven’t written anything for this blog in a while, mostly because I’ve spent most of the summer trying not to puke.  I attribute some of the nausea to morning sickness, but the recent political landscape has also made me want to barf.

Now that I’m well into my second trimester and the conventions are over, I’m hoping I can enjoy a little bit of respite before my ankles start swelling and the debates begin dominating the airwaves.  In this little interval, I’m trying to enjoy a bit more food, both for body and thought.

As a tasty little appetizer, I’ve recently tucked into Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom”.  Yes, it’s sanctimonious and stilted, but I can’t help myself, I love it.  I wish I lived in a world where people spoke in full paragraphs, fueled by intellect, passion, and idealism.  I have a tendency to grand stand and lecture, so for better or worse, the totally un-ironic preachiness of most of the characters sounds pretty normal to me.

“The Newsroom” chronicles the trials and tribulations of a nightly cable news show, which embarks on a noble experiment to de-fluff its broadcast, and ratings be damned, report the news that really matters.  As you might imagine, this pisses a lot people off.  In a showdown between Leona, the owner of the network (as played by the legendary Jane Fonda) and Charlie, head of the news division (as played by the inestimably awesome Sam Waterston), there’s a great exchange in which Charlie explains what it means to report from the center…check it out, the whole thing’s great, but it really gets good around 1:50.

(Look at those trustworthy eyebrows…I think I would believe just about anything that came out of Sam Waterston’s mouth, though I do partially blame him for my decision to go to law school)

Charlie:  We did the news…

Leona:   For the left.

 Charlie:  For the center.

 Leona:  Are you fucking out your mind?!?

 Charlie:  For the center, Leona.  Facts are the center.  Facts.   We don’t pretend that certain facts are in dispute to give the appearance of fairness to people who don’t believe them.  Balance is irrelevant to me.  It doesn’t have anything to do with truth, logic or reality.  He didn’t go on the air telling people to give peace a chance, but evolution?  The jury’s back on that one.

I was blown away by Charlie’s little speech.  Like a lot of liberals, I get so caught up in extolling the virtues of pluralism and tolerance that I sometimes forget that ignoring actual facts for the sake of fairness is no virtue at all.  It calls to mind this little aphorism…

I know that by feeding my head and bleeding heart with Aaron Sorkin shows, I risk leaning so far to the left that I might fall out of my chair.  And I try to be careful of my own confirmation bias and I really, really try to listen to alternative points of view.  But yeah, as Charlie states better than I ever could, the jury is in about a few things, and what does it serve to politely yield the floor to people who don’t yield to facts?  Perhaps we can speed up the glacial pace of progress if more people just acknowledged….


I know that for a lot of good, smart people, questions of faith make questions of fact a lot more complicated.  I get it.  But it only took a few centuries for Copernicus and Galileo to be pardoned…so maybe there’s hope.   Still searching for the center and memo received.

4 thoughts on “Aaron Sorkin, Sam Waterston, and the Search for the Center

  1. Kristi Pelletier Vega September 25, 2012 / 5:54 pm

    I LOVE all things Aaron Sorkin, and throwing in Sam Waterston was pure genius. I think I would be considered a centrist, but in my experience it feels less like sitting on a fence and more like Twister–right hand on blue, left hand green, right foot waaay over on yellow, left foot impossibly stretched to red. On some issues I agree with the Dems., others with Reps. And clearly Sorkin loves to champion liberal stories, but I certainly don’t care because it’s so gooooood. I think he’s great at making each characters arc so satisfying. Same in West Wing, and if you haven’t seen Sports Night, Netflix it. I loved that show.

  2. Kristi Pelletier Vega September 25, 2012 / 6:05 pm

    Cant help myself, one more thought. Its not just faith that ignores facts. Often compassion can be blind to fact, too. But I find that at election time, when fact checkers are working overtime, ignoring or discounting fact is a matter of not believing the messenger. And so elections and politics are mostly about trust, not facts.

  3. Jamie Walker Ball September 25, 2012 / 6:12 pm

    Excellent points, Kristi. The quest for facts gets harder and harder in the age of spin, and everyone has biases rooted in one tradition or another. I think I’ve made peace wth the idea that we have to dig a little deeper, then when we hit a bedrock of truth, we need to dig in, and not pretend it away just because it’s inconvenient or because we’re trying to be polite.

  4. Jeff Hall September 25, 2012 / 7:28 pm

    I couldn’t really get into The Newsroom. I like Sorkin, but I found this show to be just a little TOO divorced from reality. No one talks like that. We may wish we did. But we don’t. In my mind I am acerbic and witty like Toby. In reality, I am just an asshole. I also thin Sorkin is terrible at writing women. They are always in peril, and almost always it is because of mistakes THEY make that must be redeemed by men. Seriously. Women in self created peril that must be saved by men is as Sorkin as the walk and talk. When he is at his best (The Social Network) he just ignores women completely.

    That being said, some of the larger themes of the show, and this post, are more applicable now than ever. We have sacrificed honesty and truth on the altar of balance. The Neil DeGrasse Tyson quote is especially meaningful to me.

    Kristi, I think that you are right to say that elections have become about trust. But if we don’t speak a common language based on factual reality, how do we know who exactly to trust? Instead of making fact based arguments all we are left with is emotional appeals and questions like “which candidate would you rather have a beer with” which may be the stupidest fucking question ever.

    I don’t always agree with Sorkin, and I don’t always appreciate how he gets there. But in this critique of where our politics and journalism is, I find myself nodding in decided agreement more often than not.

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