‘Global Clarity’, PRISM and why I like #TheNewsroom

3rd September 2013

OK, so I’m not the first person to notice this, but when I came across this clip last week I did find it fairly remarkable. HBO’s The Newsroom (above) which is a cable news drama written by the great and the good Aaron Sorkin, returned to Sky Atlantic last night. (For those of you just returned from Mars, Sorkin created The West Wing, wrote The Social Network and co-wrote Moneyball.) Yesterday’s show was S2 E1 (or the first episode of the second series) but last week to prep for that I was finishing the box set of S1. In episode 8 Stephen McKinley Henderson’s Solomon Hancock, a senior guy at the National Security Agency, meets clandestinely with news division president Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterson) in the New York Public Library. He wants to blow the whistle on the illegal practices of his employer…

Sound familiar? ‘The project title is Global Clarity and it intercepts 1.6 billion phone calls, e-mails and texts every day…’ Sure, people had been saying these things before Edward Snowden revealed the clandestine mass electronic data mining software called PRISM, but it’s still surprising to find a detailed discussion of it in a television drama first broadcast in the States on 12 August 2012.

The currency of the series is one of the reasons I really, really like it. So is its thoughtfulness and its intelligence and smart, sassy dialogue and liberal Republicanism and live broadcast excitement and elegant direction and pace and, oh yes, Emily Mortimer. I even like the preachiness. So I do not understand why the show does not have more friends – and why it has not been written about more than it has (a topic to which I intend to return).

The Newsroom is not perfect by any means – the soapiness gets way too suds-y at times – but it makes me think and it makes me smile, and just like I wanted Jed Bartlet to be President of the United States of America, The Newsroom makes me want television current affairs to be like The Newsroom. Heck, I even want the United States of America to be like The Newsroom.

PS. We will return to the new series of The Newsroom, but one initial thought is this: has any drama had quite such a make-over of its opening titles between S1 and S2? Last time around, it will all about the great tradition of television news, of the legacy of Murrow and Cronkite, and of the importance of embedding ACN within that honourable lineage. At the top of S2 all that has gone, and we have a title sequence about everyday life in New York and the eruption into it of news from afar. Early days, of course, but I much prefer the old one.

PPS. Here’s another view, from last season, by Margaret Lyons writing for Vulture: The Newsroom is incredibly hostile toward women… and Chadwick Matlin, also Vulture, wrote a smart piece about last night’s show, The Newsroom Season 2 premiere recap: partyin’, partyin’, yeah.

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