Dan Rather likes 'The Newsroom,' Michael Wolff does not

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"The Newsroom" debuted Sunday night, and Dan Rather bucks the critical trend: The former CBS anchor likes the show, he writes on Gawker.

There is a newsroom authenticity to what's presented and much that gets to the heart of modern American journalism's problems ... Ratings (or circulation), demographics, and profits rule. Any talk of the public interest or of doing quality journalism of integrity with guts is considered passé.

There may be some who find that a bit rich coming from a guy who was dinged for his "virtual absence from the reporting process” in the story that sunk him at the network. Rather also gets a little dark about life in a TV newsroom:

One thing missing, for me anyway, in this first installment is a deep enough sense that most newsrooms -- television and otherwise -- have a kind of "valley of broken dreams" feel to them... an echo in the interior of people who got into news because of their idealism, now struggling with the reality of compromises they're forced to make daily if not hourly. In the real world, the undertow of this is palpable but often goes unspoken. In Newsroom, it's spoken often.

Michael Wolff says Sorkin's portrayal is "out of date by 25 years."

Let's be clear: 25 years on, there is no network news-gathering operation. There are no foreign bureaus. There are no (or paltry few) correspondents. There is no newsroom. There's a much-reduced band of very young "producers" rewriting AP copy and whatever they can find on the internet. Oh yes, and there are no anchormen – save for Brian Williams, an unsettling imitation.

But Wolff also lards his review with one really sloppy sentence that makes me wonder whether he's the right person to be stating facts about news organizations, much less saying "journalists can't write":

The existence of all newspapers, including the New York Times and Washington Post, is in serious doubt.

How does a sentence like this occur in a piece about a show about journalism? I just got a Washington Post delivered on my lawn this morning. I've got friends who work there, and their IM statuses don't indicate anything weird is up. I called a friend who works at The Washington Examiner, and she reports she can see the building across 15th Street NW from a window in her office. All those facts argue persuasively that The Post exists.

David Carr, whose weekly New York Times column also seems to exist, writes that "The Newsroom" offers a model for CNN, if an oblique one: since the news network makes money despite its ratings tanking, why not double down on "cooking informational broccoli" and offer a "ride through the news cycle with some dignity"? I suppose one test of that approach will be when it comes time to see whether "The Newsroom" gets renewed.

Writing in The New York Observer, Drew Grant wonders what 2010 events will be featured in the rest of the season. My favorite concerns the mid-term elections:

Plot Summary: A dreamy Scott Brown (Peter Krause) is invited for an exclusive News Night interview after winning Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts. It all goes fine until the cameras roll and Bill locks horns with the Republican on-air, where it's revealed that the Senator also used to date Mackenzie.

Metacritic's aggregated reviews have the show at 54 out of 100 so far (and incidentally, here's a pretty good argument against assigning numerical ratings to works of entertainment). It lists 27 reviews of "The Newsroom," way more than I could ever hope to finish aggregating. Here's something from Glynnis MacNicol. It looks good.|| Related: "Like many pilots, this one contained the seeds of a better and a worse show going forward." (TIME) | CBC journalists review "The Newsroom" (CBC)| Previously: TV critics pan "The Newsroom" (Poynter)

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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