Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Newsroom 2.07: "Red Team III"

“Leona, we don’t have the trust of the public anymore!”
“Get it back!”
-Charlie and Leona

This is the episode where the shit really hits the fan on Operation Genoa. We both see the moment when the story is broadcast (and the fallout) and finally learn what this potential lawsuit is all about. The former was kind of predictable, the latter was just ridiculous. Apparently Jerry is suing for wrongful termination. Yeah, he doctored an interview that almost drove ACN into the ground, but because nobody caught it in time, there was an “institutional failure,” and he was made a scapegoat. First of all, I want to know how he had anything other than at will employment, and second of all, even if he could only be fired for cause, what kind of defense is “institutional failure” when you do something as blatantly wrongheaded as doctor an interview? Notably, this episode, while it does contain the most movement on Genoa so far, actually does deal with a pretty big real-life news story. The September 11, 2012 attack on the consulate in Benghazi occurs in this episode, and of course, the News Night team are the only news team out there who think it might have been a terrorist attack. Sigh.

This episode continues the legal client interview framing device format that many of this season’s episodes have used. This one focuses in on the third meeting of the Operation Genoa Red Team, this time including Will. The addition to the research this time is an interview that was conducted by Mackenzie. That interview is the final straw that convinces everybody (except Jim, really) to go with the story. The story broadcasts with the vintage Sorkin dramatic notes one would expect. It’s not just a broadcast of News Night, it’s a special called “ACN Reports.” Will narrates in dramatic fashion as all of the interviews and pieces of evidence are disseminated. What I find strange is how court-like it all is. The interviews are like direct examinations, not real interviews that journalists would do. Journalists don’t have to adhere to the Federal Rules of Evidence. The facts should just be laid out in a compelling way.

Anyway, though the client interview framing device, we finally learn exactly why AWM is being sued in regards to the Operation Genoa story. It’s not a defamation lawsuit by anyone profiled or some sort of espionage charges from the federal government. It’s a wrongful termination lawsuit. Filed by Jerry Dantana, of all people. The idiot who doctored the interview with the three star general and really kickstarted the whole mess. He says that he was made a scapegoat and fired to take the heat off of an “institutional failure.” I don’t know, even if he did have a contract that made him something other than your garden variety “at will” employee that his employer can fire for any legal reason at all, doctoring an interview seems like cause to fire someone to me, even if his supervisors were too caught up in their own drama to catch it in time. Don’t take that as actual legal advice, obviously, but it just sounds plain stupid. How can you create a fraudulent work product and expect to not get fired if it’s found out? Especially when the finding out causes your company international humiliation.

Anyway, the threads of Genoa start unraveling not long after the special airs. The first thing to go is one of their interview subjects. The soldier in question is invited to do a live interview on Elliot’s 10:00 show, and it’s pretty much a disaster. The soldier admits to suffering a Traumatic Brain Injury in an attack prior to Genoa. This, unfortunately, instantly undermines his credibility. He also did not disclose his condition to the News Night staff prior to the interview. The next red flag is when the Department of Defense doesn’t respond right away to the story. Mackenzie is anxiously awaiting such a response on the DoD website, but it’s a very long time in coming. When the response does appear, it is unequivocal in its denial of the story. The News Night crew also learned that Pentagon Counsel and the Attorney General had a hand in crafting the statement, which means they were likely extremely serious about making it clear that the United States never used Sarin. Despite all of this, though, the News Night team still votes to stand behind the story.

Giving the News Night team some hope is the fact that Will and Charlie both have a source who tells them to stick with the story. Unfortunately for Will and Charlie, they don’t realize that they’ve each been talking to the same source, and to say that source was unscrupulous would be an understatement. Charlie goes to DC to meet with the source in a parking garage, Deep Throat-style, and that’s where the truth comes out. The source had a son who worked as an intern for News Night in the past and committed suicide soon after he was fired from the job. In retaliation for his belief that the News Night crew are somewhat responsible for his son’s death, the source fabricated evidence, particularly a flight manifest that suggested Sarin might have been transported, and tried to convince both Charlie and Will that the story was a lot more airtight than it actually was.

For a while, the News Night crew continues to defiantly stand behind the story. It all falls apart, though, when Mackenzie discovers the doctored footage, thanks to some newly acquired sports knowledge of all things. Early in the episode, Mackenzie and Will had been talking about sports that have a secondary clock, and Will explains the shot clock in basketball. Recall that when the three star general was interviewed, a basketball game was on television in the background. The game was blurred out for the broadcast, but it was still visible in the (doctored) “raw” footage. Jerry made sure that the game clock was out of frame, but the shot clock was still visible, and Mackenzie sees it jump all over the place. She confronts Jerry and fires him immediately, then she glumly goes to the newsroom and tells the crew they have to retract the Genoa story immediately.

Back in the “present,” the interviews with the AWM lawyer are finally at an end, and the news doesn’t seem to be good. The lawyer thinks that Jerry might have a possible defense with the whole “institutional failure” think that I think Sorkin may have just pulled out of his ass. Will, Mackenzie, and Charlie decide that the best course of action is for them to resign, considering they all screwed up too. Leona, who is called in from some sort of gala to deal with the situation, refuses to accept their resignations, though. She, in a rare moment of sanity, also thinks that it’s ridiculous Jerry would be trying to sue for wrongful termination after he did something so stupid and damaging to the company, and she doesn’t care how much it will cost to defend the case in court. Will, Mackenzie, and Charlie still want to resign, though, because they feel they’ve lost the public trust and can’t really do their jobs anymore. Leona disagrees, and she charges them with getting that trust back.

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