How tragic to watch Aaron Sorkin's brilliant, complex, committed "Newsroom" on HBO and then turn on CNN the next day and watch endless, spectacularly uninteresting coverage of the birth of a child (it's a boy!) to an uninteresting couple in England while the rest of the world burned or shot or watched the pope in Brazil (someone may have planned to kill him -- Holy Cow!) or starved or went to war or kept secrets or revealed them or legislated or went more homophobic in Russia or refused the polio vaccine in Pakistan... or... or... so many fascinating and important news stories ignored because of an event that is such a non-event the Guardian newspaper (in England) put a button on its website enabling you to be spared all news about this non-news.
A few years ago an hour of CNN took you from a murder on the streets of America to the corridors of power in India and back to how they reacted in Washington to the war in wherever to a famine in... perhaps a dozen national and international stories in an hour -- and then new stories, deeper stories in the hour that followed. Back then this nameless baby would have warranted a minute. Or less. What is the news, after all? "It came out okay like most babies do. It was a boy. The British will pay for its upkeep."
And it's not just this. For months now anyone watching CNN has been the victim of a series of obsessions, each one obliterating everything else. It's like being trapped at a party by a monomaniacal bore obsessed with golf or wine or vegetarianism.
A bomb explodes in Boston, killing a fraction of the number of people killed every day in the Middle East by the same method -- and the coverage goes on for weeks and never asks the bigger questions. The reporters remain standing out there on the corner scratching their mikes until its time to cover "The One Month Anniversary." Then they move on. There are some tornadoes: endless shots of wrecked trailers. A nut keeps some women in a basement: okay, weird... but days and days on this little scrap of the macabre? Next it's Zimmerman -- a whitish guy shot a black guy in Florida. How can this be!? What a surprise! Who'd have guessed that would ever happen with so many guns in circulation and dozens of shoot-'em-dead gun laws. Important in many ways, I concede, but every minute of an entire evening of news for weeks?! To the exclusion of the entire rest of the world no matter what is happening?
And frequently there is no news even of the non-news kind on the non-news story. A man or woman stands outside a building reporting that there's no news. "And back to you, Anderson." You can see their mortification, these serious reporters who less than a year ago were doing serious work. Even when there is news, the question they used to ask, "What is going on?" has been replaced by, "How do you feel?" (about your dead child, your killer son, the house the tornado took, the freaks in Boston.) "How do you feel? Come on, cry! Cry!"
Aaron Sorkin, who must have begun his wonderful show hoping he might persuade the news-apathetic to be less so, arrives too late. All his intelligent, animated characters who care about the news, about facts and conveying them truthfully and interestingly? In reality they're already gone, killed by management. There is no Sam Waterston pragmatically trying to protect the integrity of his staff and their profession. Instead there's a new boss fluffing up ratings (mildly and I'll bet temporarily) while sinking the last ship of serious TV news, this cargo that made you a better citizen, a better voter, a better person.
The stories "Newsroom" tells are often a year old, dramatic license is taken, but you'll learn more about the world from an hour of this than from a week of CNN.
Bravo, Aaron Sorkin and HBO, shame on you CNN.
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