As News Night Loses Its Soul, The Newsroom Gains Its Footing

The HBO show provides a more nuanced critique of the news industry.

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Fortunately, after briefly stumbling through these subplots, The Newsroom stops indulging its own problems to focus on the flawed approach News Night is now taking, as Maggie struggles to stomach working with a Anthony Weiner whistle-Tweeter.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Secret Service scandal.]

It is not all just tawdry trials and crotch shots concerning the ACN staff. Charlie tries to confront Leona about her efforts to use tabloid-baiting to sink Will, whose critiques of the Tea Party and the Koch brothers are perturbing Atlantis World Media's corporate connections. Mackenzie and Sloan have a serious debate about covering the debt ceiling crisis, diverting from their usual conversation topics: boys and manicures. The episode ends with a studio-wide power outage, which Mackenzie, only half kiddingly, reads as a sign that News Night must stop with the tragedy porn.

As The Newsroom nears the end of its hit-or-miss first season, Sorkin appears to have found some of his footing, as the show has grown stronger since its early episodes. Jessica Stuart, who has 15 years of television experience working in various network and cable news rooms, said she appreciated how "realistic" the episode felt.

Stuart could appreciate the added pressure on the staff to score the GOP debate rang true, "Getting a debate, especially now in cable news days, is a very big deal." Furthermore, she noted that the contrast between how seriously the NSA source was treated and how frivolous Weiner-gate guest came off.

"She has an agent, and she's doing the round of shows. I think that's quite interesting, and again, goes to show you what a business it has all become. I feel like the whole thing was a look at the old way things were done and the new way things are done." Such a contrast is far more subtle and compelling than the usual lecturing the Sorkin's characters do. Noted Stuart, "He's not making doing things 'right' easy for this News Night team."

  • Read last week's Newsroom recap.
  • Read the U.S. News interview with Wesley Clark about his show Stars Earn Stripes.
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.
  • Tierney Sneed is associate editor of U.S. News Opinion. E-mail her at tsneed@usnews.com and follow her on Twitter.