Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Politicization of the News

In the second episode of The Newsroom, Mackenzie McHale revamps the show within the show, News Night With Will McAvoy, and her top priority is news that is political.

If the goal of revamping News Night is to better inform the American public about important issues, the number 1 objective should not be about information that's most relevant to the voting booth. It should be about information that's most relevant to everyday life. And the information that's most relevant to everyday life is money related.

Leave it to a rich, Hollywood liberal to tell his viewers that what matters isn't financial, it's political. Even the financial "expert" on the show, Sloan Sabbath, is focused on financial issues as it relates to politics. Her pet cause has always been the debt ceiling fight. The show never talks about money matters that's relevant to the average household. They only ever talk about the importance of the debt ceiling as it relates to Federal outlays and making Republicans look bad.

Things like the risk free rate (Treasury yields) and how it affects personal finances are never explained. Investment strategy? Nope. The importance of bond markets and how it affects everyday prices? Unh uh. Appropriate savings rates for a comfortable retirement? Nah, let's just talk about how union employees aren't really overpaid (even though they really are, especially when you count their retirement and health benefits).

No. The news should always be about politics and how it should affect your decision come Election Day. This should tell you a lot about the priorities within The Newsroom. And it certainly dispenses any of the boneheaded arguments saying that the show is not a political show. It is a political show. And if you couldn't tell from the opening scene of the first episode, they literally spell it out for you early in the second episode.

That does not mean that the show is not good or not enjoyable. It's a good show and it's enjoyable. But it's a show meant to stir up politics, not to "properly inform" average Americans or show how the news really should be done. News Night With Will McAvoy is not a news show. It's a political show presented as a news show, which is actually pretty subversive when you think about it.

This is the fundamental reason why actual news shows have experienced declining ratings. The average viewer is content with knowing the bare minimum of current events and then going over to their favorite opinion source to get their take on how it really is. Opinions, not information, rule the day when it comes to the "news" channels.

If I asked you to name the most visible personality on CNN, you would name Wolf Blitzer or Anderson Cooper. And their main duty is to report the news. The most visible personality on Fox is Bill O'Reilly, and his show is purely political and opinion based. And MSNBC? It's either Rachel Maddow, Joe Scarborough, or Lawrence O'Donnell (who is the closest approximation to Will McAvoy in real life), and they're all political pundits. Guess which news channel is in the ratings doldrums? CNN.

And it's not like The Newsroom tries to hide this reality. McAvoy's show spikes in the ratings after he gives that speech in the first episode, which is nothing more than a stream-of-consciousness rant of his own political opinions. Opinions are the bread and butter of the news channels. Breaking news is too unreliable to be a mainstay.

I don't know if Aaron Sorkin intentionally meant to mislead his audience or if he's completely unaware of the irony in a show that positions itself as best presenting the news when it's actually just politicizing and editorializing the news. So it's important to remember that, while watching The Newsroom, this isn't a show about facts. It's a show about opinions on facts, which can be shortened to just "opinions".


  1. The Newsroom is funny. Its whole premise is that they are "fixing" the current state of current cable news with their show. But all they are doing is transforming their show to an MSNBC opinion show. In Sorkin's warped reality we'd all be better off if everyone just watched MSNBC prime time programming. For him, that's "real" news. I guess it's more sad than it is funny.

  2. Jay, here is a story, (not Newsroom related), that I would love to get your take on, either here or as a blog entry. The DC city council's minimum wage hike for big box retailers. Here is an article from about it.

    1. That does give me an idea for a blog post. I've got it filed away for a posting in the near future.