Something about this show really brings out the best and the sharpest in TV critics.
Sorkin's 'Newsroom' Is No Place For Optimism : Monkey See : NPR
Let's back up.
The underlying thesis of The Newsroom is that the problems of TV news – no, the problems of news media – no, the problems of American political life – are really pretty easy to solve. What could turn things around, the story suggests, is one newsman who will look into a camera and speak the objective and easily discernible truth. And, it suggests, the only reason that hasn't happened anywhere (and is thus so revelatory) is that everyone in every media organization in the country is so obtuse that they've never thought of offering objective facts in a civil manner before, and is such a money-grubbing coward that they'd never do it if they did.
And the reason, under this same theory, that Americans are separated by deep and profound political divisions is simply that they don't know anything about anything. They are dumb and gullible and believe, en masse, whatever is put in front of them (MacKenzie calls one of the show's objectives "speaking truth to stupid"), the upside of which is that if you serve them better facts, you can improve them. That's the epiphany that comes to Will, and to his new executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), and to Charlie. It's so easy, they all realize. All you have to do is stop being a mindless stooge like everyone else is, and you can start to fix the fact that we are right now a nation of idiots. The title of the pilot episode is, in fact, "We Just Decided To," and that's absolutely, positively Sorkin's point: we fail each other not when we try but do not succeed, but when nobody "just decides to" do everything right.
Now maybe you believe that; maybe you don't. Many people believe every single word of those two paragraphs, both about the problems in media and about the problems in the general population. Those people might be right and they might be wrong, but they are hardly our idealistic dreamers. If Sorkin is idealistic – if he is optimistic – about anything, it is the ease with which he believes minds can be changed and problems can be solved with well-chosen zingers. Will McAvoy is hailed as a hero within the framework of the show because it is woven into the show's DNA that doing a better job of conveying information on cable news can fix what ails us irrespective of any divisive issues that might appear to exist, and that doing so is not actually difficult if you are willing to give a stern lecture to a couple of craven dummies in suits who tell you that you should pay attention to ratings. (MacKenzie says she would rather make a good show for a hundred people than a bad show for a million people, which raises the question of what good is done for civic engagement, exactly, by a good show watched by a hundred people and who would pay for it – questions people in the real world would have to consider that she does not.) (Note: I had originally misremembered it and described her saying a good show for ten people instead of a mediocre show for a million people. I think the point remains the same, but I meant to listen to it again and forgot; my flub.)