I don’t write about popular culture often. In fact, I don’t watch TV all that much, so it’s somewhat anomalous that my piece for US News this week starts with a critique of the latest episode of Aaron Sorkin’s HBO drama, The Newsroom. This episode has been widely lambasted for its treatment of issues surrounding campus rape. The Newsroom usually aims for a belated ripped-from-the-headlines approach by showing journalists in action covering stories from roughly 18 months ago, but last weekend it stumbled – into breaking news, that is – by addressing campus rape in the wake of the University of Virginia controversy.
As discussed in my new US News post, however, this wasn’t the show’s real concern. Rather, it was simply another illustration of Sorkin’s reactionary take on the clash between new media and old. The other issues addressed in the episode – including the incredibly bad idea of staging an on-air confrontation between a Princeton student and her alleged rapist – all connect one way or another to the font of all evil: the fictional network’s new techy billionaire owner.
The episode engendered an unusually timely aura thanks to not just the UV rape story but also the reported death at week’s end of The New Republic (TNR) at the hands of its evil, new techy (near-)billionaire owner, Chris Hughes. But while Sorkin is being vilified for his reactionary and cartoonish portrayal of the coming new-media world, Hughes is being vilified for embodying it.
The immediate question posed by the perhaps-exaggerated reports of TNR’s demise is, Can serious journalism survive economically in a market that favors cat videos, inflammatory tweets, and listicles? But the issue raises parallels with the direction that all modern institutions, including governments, are headed.