Monday, July 22, 2013

The Newsroom: Counterpoints and Retrospective (7/21/13)

My oh my, we've got quite a chock full episode of Things That Need To Be Addressed. It was also quite entertaining as well. But let's get right to it. I feel like this is gonna be a long blog post.

1. Chasing down a lead on sarin gas is worth doing, despite the fact that it's completely implausible.

Supposedly the story within the story is based on Operation Tailwind. But Tailwind had much more "this might actually be plausible" flavor to it seeing as it was based in Vietnam 28 years ago at the time. And it was allegedly a punitive mission, not a extraction mission. Using Sarin during an extraction makes absolutely no sense because you'd wind up gassing the very people you were trying to extract in the first place.

The US military has a very good term for that kind of thing: danger close. If their servicemen couldn't be extracted because of heavy enemy resistance, it's likely because the enemy is keeping them pinned. If that happens, that means they're close by. With a dispersal agent like Sarin, any drop would probably be within 600 meters of the people we were trying to extract. Combine that with the fact that Predator drones aren't currently equipped with warheads that can deliver Sarin and that manned fixed-wing aircraft are unable to operate within Pakistani airspace, and there is literally zero possibility for this being plausible from an operational standpoint. Conventional drone strikes would have provided effective close air support, anyways.

From a political standpoint, any military operation involving explicitly banned chemicals would be political suicide for any Administration. Any tactical advantage that could be gained from its use would be immediately outweighed by the political and strategic consequences. Use of white phosphorus in Iraq already created a mini-scandal and its use isn't banned by international protocols on the rules of war. Sarin, which was used to notorious effect in the Iran-Iraq war and, most recently, in Syria (in which the President declared that such use would represent a red line that would carry dire consequences) would have been impossible for any Administration to consider.

The Newsroom is doing itself a huge disfavor by introducing this storyline into the mix. It's utterly implausible.

2. Troy Davis should be granted clemency on account of the fact that the appeals process was arguably mishandled and that 7 out of 9 witnesses that had testified against him later recanted their story.

I hate to use Will McAvoy's own argument against the case against Troy Davis' execution, but everything he said was true. Witnesses make lousy witnesses and could easily recant in the years after which the issue becomes a cause celebre. And arguing that the lawyers handling the appeals weren't good enough also makes sets dangerous precedent for future cases to be overturned on appeal simply because the issue of "good enough" is too subjective.

In the absence of incontrovertible evidence that could be used to exonerate Davis or a clear blunder in the handling of his appeals process, the original ruling must stand. The lengthy time it takes to take a case through due process when capital punishment is sought can easily distort our perception of how things happened as they happened. When the jury heard the evidence brought against Davis, they agreed, unanimously, that it was strong enough to warrant a conviction. Any relitigation of the issue would immediately be tainted by the fact that the case had become an extreme controversy after the fact.

3. Will McAvoy: I'm not allowed to get into advocacy.

When he explained his position to Don, this just immediately jumped out to me. Of course McAvoy is allowed to get into advocacy. And he's already done so. It would have been more prudent for him to state his original case, which is that the jury already decided, the trial is too far removed to relitigate, and that it would be both petty and useless to advocate on one case of capital punishment, even if it is somewhat of a big controversy.

Given the fact that McAvoy has already gone on air to say that he will make no attempt to hide his opinions from the audience, later seeing him say that he's not allowed to get into advocacy is a bit of a stretch.

4. The killing of al-Awlaki is a surprise to McAvoy and represents an egregious abuse of executive power.

This can't have been a surprise to any experienced news hand. The fact of the matter is that al-Awlaki had been marked for death for over a year before it actually happened. I know this because I read it in the Wall Street Journal's editorial pages a year before al-Awlaki was terminated via Predator strike. al-Awlaki cannot be granted the rights of due process a civilian enjoys in US jurisdiction if he is an enemy combatant.

His status as a senior operative within al-Qaeda made him an enemy combatant. The government of Yemen (I know, not the most revered of authorities) has already declared him outlaw and subject to death. The fact of the matter is, at the time of his sanctioned killing, he was an enemy combatant and therefore not entitled to normal procedures of due process as befitting an American civilian. The legal precedent had already been established in a case (Ex Parte Quirin) with similar circumstances.

All of this is readily available information. What is not readily known are the confidential courts and legal memorandums that authorized his killing. But any chase down that rabbit hole ultimately leads to a compromised ability for the executive to safeguard national security. For this type of incident, there simply isn't any smoke that suggests the government was acting irrationally, imprudently, or illegally. "Just trust us" is the implicit argument of Justice and Defense. In this case, I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

5. Sloan Sabbath: Investors should look to Nigeria for the next oil supply boom.

The funny thing about The Newsroom is that although their journalists have a preternatural ability to sense how major events will turn out before they actually turn out, they can't get the details right when it comes to economics.

Nigeria's oil production has been stagnant since 2010 due to extreme corruption in the state owned petroleum industry. Meanwhile, the extraordinary increases in oil and gas production in the US, thanks to hydraulic fracturing (fracking), has lead Federal and international energy agencies to predict that the US will overtake Saudi Arabia as the top petroleum producer by 2020.

Widespread fracking had begun in earnest in the mid aughts and singlehandedly revived the flagging US petroleum and gas industries, which began their slow decline in the 70s, after conventional sources peaked. This had all been common knowledge in late 2011. If The Newsroom wants to credibly portray Sabbath as some economic genius, the least they could have done was have her stay on the economic knowledge curve at the time instead of just giving her a throwaway line that only sounds smart to the uninitiated.

6. Will McAvoy: I'm sick of this charade I have to put on for my Democratic/liberal newsroom colleagues.

What really pissed me off about Sorkin is how he discredited McAvoy's legitimate arguments against Troy Davis and al-Awlaki by having him express remorse to a complete stranger (the police officer) about those arguments he used. It's "winning" an argument by not actually winning the argument. The fact is those arguments are legitimate and they weren't addressed in a substantive manner. It was what McAvoy needed to do to let the audience know that he's still the secret liberal/progressive Sorkin wants him to be and it was the easiest way to "win" the internal debate within the show.

7. Rival news chick: Perry's gonna bomb out as soon as he opens his mouth.

Of course, The Newsroom gets the benefit of hindsight. And gives their prognostication to some random news chick that's so obviously going to be a love interest of Jim. So of course they have to make her look smart. At the time, the smart money (Intrade) still had Romney as the (slight) favorite to win the nomination. But nobody predicted that Perry would have flamed out in such spectacular fashion as he did (oops, gets me every time!). I remember the news coverage of Perry at the time of his nomination, and he was treated as the insta-frontrunner and the serious, credible alternative to Romney in a way that Huntsman never was.

8. Lisa: We're only living together because we can't afford to live apart. The rent is too damn high.

I know this is the line they used to give Maggie a reason to still be living with Lisa (to set up their eventual reconciliation), but come on. During this time, NYC rents had been in the midst of a renascence and Lisa could have easily found a roommate to replace Maggie.

9. Sloan Sabbath: I have 450k Twitter followers.

Gimme a break. Given Sloan's area of expertise and the fact that her real life counterpart, Maria Bartiromo, only has 85k, they should have picked a slightly more realistic number. I'd give her 150k at the most.

I know, ridiculously stupid nitpick. But that's why you read this blog.

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