Actually, I hadn't, nor had I ever heard of the website before. (Thankfully, I at least already knew the news, having been notified by email the previous week, because sometimes in this business, as with my last job working on Eliot Spitzer's show at CNN, you learn such news about yourself from the press.)
What troubled me, more than the public nature of my personal job situation, was the reporting -- which got cut and pasted and parroted endlessly over the next 24 hours in places from The Hollywood Reporter to Entertainment Weekly to New York magazine's Vulture column to the Huffington Post, The National Review (!) and way, way many other places.
It was inaccurate and lazy. As it drifted through this aggregator foodchain, maybe one writer would add some opinionating to it, like Grantland, but none of it was based on any further reporting. Nobody has the budget to do anything any more but repeat, and the rush is to get it on your website fast before people start going to someone else's website instead.
Basically the information in these dozens, perhaps hundreds of stories, remained the same four bullet points:
- that only one writer was retained -- not true. (Three were.)
- that her name is Corinne "Kinsbury." (it's Kingsbury).
- citing a Sorkin quote in Vanity Fair (below), that all the writers do is "research"
- and quoting an HBO spokesman that such turnover is "nothing out of the ordinary.”
According to HBO, the Aaron Sorkin drama set behind the scenes of a cable news network is replacing about half of its writing staff, though one source close to the show tells The Hollywood Reporter that everyone on the show's writing staff except for Corinne Kinsbury has been let go.Even Grantland, which decided to make a "point" about the firing, did so with a lot of hyperbolic extrapolation and presumption:
The real question is whether this was a par-for-the-course power move from a controlling showrunner or the first sign that the very noisy drumbeat of criticism... has reached Sorkin’s well-tanned ears. While it’s never a good thing to see anyone out of work, it’s the second scenario that’s preferable. Just like his unlucky in love male leads, Sorkin’s undeniable gifts are always at their best when paired with a tough-minded foil, someone who will stand up to the speechifying and push back against the predictable plots...
|Corinne and ex Tate Donovan|
at NYC Newsroom premiere
Anyone wanting the accurate number of writers who were cut -- or chose not to return -- could have found out with a well placed phone call or two. Anyone who really believed Sorkin employed eight writers to merely do "research" needs to really examine what that would mean. And anyone who thinks nobody in the room "stood up" to him doesn't have any concept of what the real, very hard and rewarding job of writing for Aaron is.
Writing for Sorkin -- and I have done some for all four of his shows -- means throwing 100 ideas at him that he will reject 99 of. That he will belittle and wrestle and often turn into something else. But he walks into the room every episode not knowing what he wants to write, and walks out with episodes finished.
We all worked really hard for him, beating out plots, scenes, historical scenarios, speeches, etc., for him to put in his genius machine. Yes, he writes the scripts. And, unlike when he was up against network deadlines and 22 episode seasons, he even rewrote them, to notes from producer Scott Rudin, HBO, and yes, even the writers' room.
Also: why didn't anyone research HBO's statement? Was there this much turnover between seasons one and two of Sex and the City or Sopranos or Six Feet Under or The Wire? What about patterns in Sorkin's hiring? The two seasons of Sports Night, the four he ran West Wing -- he never had the same writers' room twice. Why is this?
There are a lot of potential answers, it's not my place to provide them here. But back when I was reporting for Rolling Stone, at least one reporter would have tried.
Speaking of reporting, that huge April Vanity Fair spread on The Newsroom included this little parenthetical aside about Scott Rudin by writer James Kaplan: "(And, who, I should note, has optioned my 2010 Frank Sinatra biography for film.)" Were no other reporters available? It's the kind of blatant conflict of interest VF editor Graydon Carter would have flagged in his days at Spy. And if I were in Kaplan's shoes, I wouldn't have felt comfortable taking the gig. But that thinking makes me a dinosaur.
What's scariest about the propagation of this particular simple-minded news story is that I actually know something about it, so I can see the holes. So it means there's a lot more out there I'm reading that is just as unvetted. In the internet-dominated era, how often are we digesting information that has been similarly turned into presumed knowledge and hardened into fact, almost impossible to unravel or correct?
That is one of the burning issues that helped inspire Aaron and all of us at The Newsroom to begin with. And it is clearly far from being settled.
Update, August 1, 2012: Deadline Hollywood just posted a story quoting Sorkin at the TCA's denying the facts of the firing story. Deadline gloated how wrong the original Daily story was -- but didn't do any reporting itself. A lot of what Sorkin claimed is also easily checkable. I leave it to others to find out what's what.