In its fifth episode, The Newsroom finally proves what a compelling show it could be by giving weightier issues—the security challenges and ethical dilemmas journalists face—their due attention, while allowing lighter story lines of Valentine's Day romances gone awry humorous play on in the background.
News Night's crew behaved like a competent team of reporters and producers for once, rather the than bumbling, lovelorne whiners that the show has portrayed as "the best in the news business." Sunday's episode opens with Elliot, Will McAvoy's ACN colleague, struggling to cover the Arab Spring from his hotel room. Don, Elliot's producer, is maddeningly frustrated by the limited reporting Elliot can do. Elliot leaves the hotel only to be attacked and beaten in the madness in Tahrir Square.
The challenges depicted in covering the Egyptian protest rang true for Jessica Stuart, a 15-year TV news veteran who has experience covering the Iraq war and other dangerous conflicts. "It was pretty accurate," she said discussing the episode. "What you see when you watch these programs is that a lot of these guys won't be leaving their hotel rooms." Stuart continued, "They do take really seriously the security risk. Security is very important and it's a huge part of the news as it is being covered."
The team realizes they need to freelance a local journalist to cover the protest, as an American correspondent will attract too much negative attention. Assistant News Night producer and tech-geek Neal knows just the guy: a young Egyptian who goes by the name "Amen" (lending the episode its title). Neal feels a special attachment to Amen, but Stuart said, "When it comes to hired locals, I feel the networks do take care of stringers [the term for such a correspondent] as best they can. They become family and everyone knows they are putting themselves in the most danger."
To work with News Night, Amen must reveal his full identity—both his full name and his face, which he covers with a scarf—a risk neither party takes lightly. "This is history and you will never forget tonight," says Neal, encouraging Amen. Mackenzie McHale—the same executive producer who a few episodes ago sent a personal E-mail about her breakup with Will to the entire 178,000 person Atlantis World Media staff—is thankfully in her element as she masterfully handles the details of bringing the new correspondent on.
"It's challenging because there are trust issues. It is definitely putting a local person in danger. You have to take that very seriously," explained Stuart. "Newsrooms do take it very seriously, both in the vetting process and making sure they're not literally setting up somebody for death."
Maggie, too, has ditched her role as the helpless, love-sick lass, stepping up in her production skills. While the scene in Cairo is unfolding, she ably puts together a package on the Wisconsin union protest. Of course, the staff uncovers that the commotion in Wisconsin leads back to democracy-enemies-in-chief, the Koch brothers, who corporate head Leona Lansing has warned Will and his team not to mess with. But Will does not shy away from chasing the story, even though it will likely bring more him more unflattering heat from the gossip rags operating under Leona's influence.
In the midst of this planning, the staff goes on a tangent to discuss Rudy, the underdog sports movie about an subpar-but-devoted Notre Dame football player who ultimately sees the playing field when the team refuses to play without him. Why has the staff set aside discussion of the Arab Spring— "Berlin Wall moment," as Neal calls it—to discuss which scene in the classic film makes him or her cry? Because Aaron Sorkin plans on bringing the analogy full circle. (More on that later.)
The earnest business of news-making and nostalgia-mongering can only persist for so long until those nasty gossip columnists get in the way. Rather than focus on Will's dating misadventures, the tabloids are now going after News Night for far more serious matters. Wade Campbell, Mackenzie's boyfriend and frequent newsroom wallflower, is reported to be running for Congress. Some, including one of ACN's own daytime broadcast anchors, accuse Mackenzie of using the show has a platform to promote Wade's campaign. However, we find out it was Wade who was using Mackenzie, as she was in the dark about his political plans, and she dumps him as soon she realizes his motives.
"It definitely happens all the time," said Stuart, referring to the circles of journalists and politicians overlapping. "People try hard not to cross that line."
The controversy is highly embarrassing for the executive producer, and Will considers bribing gossip columnist Nina Howard to get the tabloids off their back. The deal is off as soon as Nina says, "Hey Will, we're all journalists," while he writes her a check (bad timing with that line, Nina), launching Will into a rant about protecting his news team who are indeed, true journalists, as he tears his check to shreds.
Amen, meanwhile, has been kidnapped in Egypt and with corporate's reluctance to help rescue him, Will secretly wires over $250,000 to Amen's captors in order for the young journalist to be released.
However, he is in not alone in his devotion to the team, as the entire News Night staff has a Rudy moment of their own, lining up at Will's office to donate what little money they have to pay Will back. The finale is a little cheesy, no doubt, but a sappy soundtrack and tearful hug between Will and Mack is a small price to pay for an episode otherwise focused on what the series promised: the challenge of producing the news. Said Stuart, "I think it's what we've been waiting for."
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