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Will McAvoy's Rules -- And Ours

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WASHINGTON -- After three episodes, I confess that I am all-in on The Newsroom.

When the show debuted last month, I approved -- grudgingly. I liked the straightforward message. How can you argue with a plea for better journalism? But I also was dismissive: an out-of-date (why wasn't it set at a website?), unconscious exercise in self-parody by occasional self-plagiarist Aaron Sorkin.

Now I realize what the show really is. Yes, it is unrealistic and predictable. It is preachy and takes place in a galaxy long ago and far away. In other words, it is a fairy tale. Well, fairy tales are meant to inspire and instruct, and The Newsroom manages to do both in a mostly entertaining way.

Episode 3, which hit HBO last night, is the best so far. The upstairs-downstairs soap opera stuff is unconvincing, and, frankly, I don't think Sorkin much cares.

But the hour is more than redeemed by anchorman Will McAvoy's confessional, defiantly earnest speech on air about the worthy aims of his newly recast show. He vows to report news that is most important to creating an informed electorate; to thoroughly report the facts; to seek out the best advocates on all sides to frame debates on the issues; to put the news in context, historically and socially; and to avoid false editorial "balance" when there are not, in fact or in morality, "two sides" to a given story.

Why would his "News Night 2.0" aim to do all of this? Because, says McAvoy, "we are the media elite."

Cut to commercial.

Yes, I know: this is hortatory Sorkinese; anodyne, obvious and contradictory. The rule about avoiding "false" balance, for example, creates an exception big enough to drive a news division through. Same for "context." That can be a license to pontificate, obfuscate and speak in boilerplate.

But McAvoy's rules are worth thinking about, and, generally, worth admiring and striving to follow. Viewers/readers/voters would be better served if we in the business worked harder to remember and honor the McAvoy rules.

And we'd feel better, too.

It will be fun to see how McAvoy and his Lois Lane-ish sidekick, EP Mackenzie McHale, deal with plummeting ratings and the Evil Big Boss, played with Helmsley-esque relish by peace activist/former CNN CEO-spouse Jane Fonda.

We know how it will turn out. The good guys will win -- barely, ruefully, wearily -- but triumphant. After all, The Newsroom is a fairy tale.