Recently someone sent me the following Facebook post with words to the effect:
“About to start watching The West Wing for the fifth time, unless anyone can suggest something better?”
My answer? The Newsroom. If you haven’t discovered writer Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing take on the news media, there’s no better time. This month the second season of this superbly written production was released in your favourite DVD store, and the third and final season is currently going to air on pay television. Both are sure to improve your opinion of journalism and challenge your notion of truth.
I realise that the first promise is going to be a hard ask. When I was working as a television journalist a friend forwarded me the results of an Australian ‘trustworthiness’ survey. My fellow nationals ranked journalists as the second-least reliable people, just a smidge above used-car salesmen. But Sorkin, one of this generation’s best writers, uses Newsroom to convey some sympathy for the task facing the modern hack:
“They’re … trying to do well in a context where it’s very difficult to do well when there are commercial concerns and political concerns and corporate concerns.”
The Newsroom stars Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy, the anchor and managing editor of the fictional national cable program News Night. Daniels is entrusted with conveying the professionalism, idealism, gossip and confusion that batters a host in a world where the Internet has ensured the facts for every potential story on the planet are available all at once… if you only know where to look. And you have the stomach for what you find. As Will’s producer MacKenzie puts it:
“Look, it’s a completely unbelievable story, but I can’t ignore evidence. It’s not like I’m in congress.”
Sorkin has taken the unusual step of setting The Newsroom in the recent past so that viewers tune in with a guaranteed sense of familiarity about the events they’re witnessing and, in many cases, know more about the news unfolding than the journalists themselves. It makes it that much easier to see what a triumph it was to bring to light facts that we now take for granted. In the second series it’s the false leads and mistakes that are on show, in particular the reporting on accusations that the United States military used sarin gas on its enemies.
There’s lots to like about The Newsroom. I’m sure even used-car salesmen would like to see a more positive take on their industry. But as a Christian I’m pleased by the realization of just how difficult it is to first discover and then understand the truth. The Newsroom team doesn’t have to just cope with outright lies but differences of perspective, failures in communication and even people who just don’t want to be heard. Watch one episode and you’ll probably begin to wonder how we manage to know anything at all. Which is why Jesus is so important. Sorry, don’t follow? Let me explain…
It was Pontius Pilate who made the famous quip, “What is truth?” when Jesus told him that knowing the it would set him free. I think many people feel that way. How can we operate with any certainty when knowing the absolute, bedrock truth seems nigh on impossible? But God has ensured that the trials facing the cast of The Newsroom don’t prevent us from understanding the most important truth: our place in the universe. He did so through His Son. Rather than leave us to discover the infinite, spiritual and ultimately unknowable God of the universe for ourselves, He came down to earth in an actual place and for decades of recorded history so that humanity could meet him. And rather than entrust this self-revelation to lightning strikes or plagues or … finger writing in the sky… He arrived as a man, in every respect like ourselves so that we could clearly receive this one fact:
“I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.”
You might enjoy Newsroom for its clever dialogue, its glimpses behind the scenes at a major news organization or even the encouragement of seeing characters of integrity strive to do what we know to be right. But don’t miss its over-arching truth: truth is a very difficult thing to discover and understand. Except, of course, when we’re talking about God.
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