The Newsroom: Opening Scene

A new Aaron Sorkin show called the “Newsroom” debuted on HBO Sunday night, and it stars Jeff Daniels as the brash, obnoxious news anchor who’s something of a conflicted diva genius.  The show overall was quite smart and well-written, but the opening scene, featuring Daniels’ character as part of a panel discussion at Northwestern University with generic liberal and generic conservative, was brilliant. 

At one point, a young girl asks the panel why they think America is the greatest country in the world. Daniels demurs, twice, before giving this answer: 

Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know, and one of them is that there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies. None of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are without a doubt, a member of the WORST-period-GENERATION-period-EVER-period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about?! Yosemite?!!!

We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right! We fought for moral reasons, we passed and struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, and we acted like men. We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t belittle it; it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy. And we were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one—America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.



    Aaron Sorkin did an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail about this new show and it was awesome. The best part is toward the end, you’ll know it when you read it.

  • Classic Aaron Sorkin maudlin nostalgia for the good old days. My God, when was that dreamy era we’ve lost?  The forties (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo firestorm, Jim Crow, Taft-Hartley)? the fifties (Korea, Jim Crow, McCarthy, subversion of Guatemala, Iran)? the sixties (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Jim Crow)? the seventies (Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile subverted)?  “We acted like men”–add “patriarchy” to all the above. Oh, and since it’s Aaron Sorkin, prepare for some Muslim-bashing, too.

  • Worst generation ever?  Fictional or not, John Q. Baby Boomer needs to look in the damn mirror.

    • Right you are. For instance, my Boomer generation (and Jeff Daniels’s) and Andrew Cuomo’s has just sold out a younger generation by agreeing to cut benefits to NYS employees who are hired in the future, while refusing to even think about taxing wealthy New Yorkers (frequently themselves) at a reasonable rate. But better than this internecine generational warfare, why not just eat the rich?

  •  We didn’t do so well in that past either – think slavery and then racism and pollution.  Think support of petty dictators and wars that had no real reason other than an irrational fear of communism.  It is hard to be the greatest of anything and perhaps some of those countries who are currently beating us in health care and math are actually standing on our backs to do those things. But ultimately a country can only be great and remain great if it is willing to evaluate itself in a critical way and make hard choices which result in a better way of doing things.  Blind boosterism an patriotism is the opposite of that.  Unfortunately too many in the USA to have no patience for the hard choices and self critique

  • Well, this type of speech by a Sorkin character was impressive the first time I heard one, in “The American President”. And they were nice when I heard them quite often on “The West Wing”, although they got less impressive the more of them I heard, usually with the exact same cadence and structure of the argument (and worse, the exact same cadence no matter who gave the speech, because in a Sorkin script, there are no distinctive-sounding characters). By the time of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”, this type of Sorkin speech was getting really old. By the time of “The Social Network”, this type of Sorkin speech was a tired cliche. And now it’s being rolled out as yet more Sorkin ‘genius’. Well, to quote the guy giving the speech, ‘What the fuck are you talking about?!’

    (And I say this as a former huge fan of Sorkin’s and a member of the choir he’s theoretically preaching to. But I’ve thought for years that all Sorkin is doing is writing the same script, over and over, with the names and places changed, and I’ve seen nothing from this show to make me think otherwise. Aaron Sorkin can write dialog with a nice rhythm. Doesn’t change the fact that he’s a one-trick hack.)

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